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The Liberal Studies Core

Students in both the two-year Core Program and the four-year Global Liberal Studies bachelor’s degree take many of the same core curriculum classes, but in separate sections to maintain the integrity of each. Consistent across all Liberal Studies core curriculum classes is that students read primary texts--whenever practical, in their entirety--rather than distillations in textbooks. Similarly, they view original works of art at museums and galleries, using an art text mainly to provide context and analysis. Faculty infuse global content and employ global perspectives in all tracks that comprise the core curriculum: Cultural Foundations (CF), Social Foundations (SF), Writing, and Science. Even more important in fostering global awareness than the works studied per se are the global perspectives from which all are viewed. To study the classics of Greco-Roman culture in connection with the Islamic revival of classical learning is to transform how both are understood; so, too, one’s understanding of drama is transformed when one studies Shakespeare, Shakuntala, and Chikimatsu in the same sequence of classes. All courses, even in the sciences, are writing intensive. CF, Global Cultures, SF, and Science classes normally cap at 25; Writing at 15.

Liberal Studies emphasizes the innovative use of technology in teaching. All students introduce themselves to the LS community through an online profile completed in the summer before they begin at NYU; those in the GLS degree also maintain a WordPress/Google-based e-portfolio over their four years that helps inform each new developmental step in their education by reference to their past academic history. The portfolio especially serves as a foundation for work in the Junior Independent Research Seminar (an online, concentration-specific course that unites students across global sites ranging from Shanghai to Buenos Aires to Paris with a NY-based instructor) and the senior thesis required of all students. Other technologies of which LS makes particular use are video- and web-conferencing, blended learning, and web publishing on the WordPress platform, as well as the University’s Sakai-based Learning Management System, NYU Classes.

Liberal Studies students may begin in New York or at NYU in Florence, London, Paris, or Washington, DC. At each of NYU’s global sites (including New York), instructors draw upon cultural resources that allow them to interfuse the curriculum with the cultural resources and contemporary life of the city in which it is taught. Students typically take their education outside the classroom by exploring different ethnographic spaces, attending musical and theatrical presentations, and visiting both large and small museums, sites of historical and contemporary social interest, galleries, and markets. This interplay between city and curriculum occurs both in specific courses and at larger co-curricular levels.

Core curriculum courses include:

Cultural Foundations

Cultural Foundations is a three-course core sequence that investigates literary, musical, visual, and performing arts from prehistory to modernity, treating the works of cultures from around the globe as texts in their own right, as contexts for each other, and as ways of understanding the civilizations in which they were produced. These interdisciplinary courses pose a central two-part question: What is art, and why do people produce it? They further ask a variety of subordinate questions: What makes art a distinctive cultural form and practice? How do the definitions and functions of making and using art change across time and place? What does art allow people to do? How does art allow people to know? How did the interconnected global arts of the present develop out of contacts between and among past traditions? To what extent is “art” itself a concept that assumes certain cultural practices that may or may not be universal? GLS majors are required to take only the first and second courses in the sequence, with the option to complete the third or do more focused work (see GLS curriculum page).

Social Foundations

Social Foundations is a three-course core sequence focusing on texts from across the globe that evoke enduring questions, such as how human beings relate to each other individually, to their physical environment, to their community, to their polity, and to the divine. Instructors explore these philosophical, political, and religious issues by situating each work in its historical context and encouraging a critical assessment of representations of race, gender, and class. Particular attention is given to developing students’ critical thinking, textual analysis, and writing skills, and to fostering class discussion. GLS majors are required to take only the first and second courses in the sequence, with the option to complete the third (see GLS curriculum page).


Writing courses advance the global emphasis of Liberal Studies by drawing texts (broadly construed) from throughout the English-speaking world and, in translation, beyond it; in the classroom, instructors deal with the attendant issues of geography, political and social difference, and translation.

A two-course writing sequence forms the foundation of a Core Program student’s writing career and shares important writing-intensive values with all other areas of the Core. For each essay in Writing I and II, student writers generate multiple revisions based on the questions and comments of their instructor and peers, on questions that arise from thoughtful reading and careful consideration of other texts, and on reconsideration of their own work.

Global Writing Seminar, the foundational writing course for GLS majors, introduces students to the kinds of observational, reading, research, analytic, and writing practices upon which they will depend throughout their undergraduate careers and beyond. Students work in various modes to help them recognize the role of writing as a tool for exposition, exploration, synthesis, and argumentation; and in various forms of writing to help them recognize the habits, practices, and intellectual assumptions that may limit their writing and scholarship. Emphasis on independent work of increasing sophistication in research methodologies yields a fuller understanding of the role of the essay in contemporary writing. In keeping with the GLS mission, course materials and activities engage global issues and perspectives, with an emphasis on the potential global site as one of the objects of investigation.


Liberal Studies offers five science courses from which students can choose to fulfill their science requirements. Living in the Anthropocene explores the significant influence human beings have exerted upon the earth in four categories: physical, biological, environmental, and climatological. History of the Universe examines the development of the universe and our solar system, together with the growth of our scientific understanding of that development. Science of Technology follows the intertwined histories of science, technology, and society, focusing mainly on the technology of communication. Environmental Studies examines the science of our environment and its role in the making of environmental policy. Life Science introduces students to evolution, genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology. Liberal Studies science courses provide rigorous science instruction within the framework of historical and contemporary social contexts. They promote the scientific literacy necessary to evaluate regional and global issues, and they equip students with both the conceptual and mathematical understanding to analyze aspects of these issues that involve science research and the scientific approach.


Liberal Studies offers two economics course as core electives. Principles of Macroeconomics introduces basic concepts of macroeconomic theory. Topics include unemployment; inflation; aggregate demand; income determination and stabilization policies; fiscal and monetary policies; and the Keynesian monetarist debate over stabilization policy. Principles of Microeconomics introduces basic concepts of microeconomic theory by examining price theory and its applications. Topics include consumer demand and choice; indifference curve analysis; big business and public policy; and factor markets and the distribution of income.