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Welcome to the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH) at Northeastern University and the home of the Experiential Liberal Arts — our dynamic framework for the college’s three-part mission of research, education, and community engagement. Within this framework, students and faculty combine Northeastern’s signature focus on experiential learning with the rigorous study of the social sciences and humanities — history, culture, society, and ethics. The topics and skills that we work on matter enormously in today’s rapidly changing world.
In the Experiential Liberal Arts model, students apply and transform their knowledge and skills across a range of contexts, from classroom to community to career. In Northeastern’s groundbreaking cooperative education program (co-op), students engage in six-month intensive research or work experiences in businesses, non-profits, and government agencies in Boston and around the globe, including historical archives, NGOs, museums, law offices, corporations, and governmental agencies. For example, 2017 graduate Mason Gersh, a combined major in political science and international affairs, discovered a commitment to human rights while on co-op at Oxfam America, and then developed his knowledge of their ethical and institutional implications in Professor Serena Parekh’s philosophy class, “Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century.” Professor Denise Garcia’s “International Conflict and Negotiation” class prepared him for his second co-op at the U.S. Embassy in London, where he subsequently spent a semester abroad at the London School of Economics. Mason now works as a policy and communications consultant at the International Rescue Committee.
Diverse perspectives and inclusive environments are key to transforming knowledge through experiential learning. The college offers innovative programs such as Northeastern’s summer term Dialogue of Civilizations and a wide array of classes that integrate community service with learning. Lori Gardinier, Director of the Human Services Program, develops service-learning partnerships with non-profit organizations in Boston and around the world. She and Thomas Vicino, Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and also an Associate Dean in the college, regularly lead a Dialogue of Civilizations program to Tokyo and Kyoto, where students learn about politics, culture, and globalization and the challenges of an aging population in Japan. Across the Experiential Liberal Arts landscape, faculty and students aim to build inclusive environments and recognize and understand human diversity in local, global, and organizational contexts.
Students and scholars in the Experiential Liberal Arts also thrive by integrating traditional liberal arts capacities — critical thinking, inter-cultural communication, ethical reasoning, aesthetic appreciation — with the new proficiencies of the digital age, such as data visualization, geocoding, text mining, social network analysis, and digital curation. Our Digital Integration Teaching Initiative is supported by the NULab for Maps, Texts and Networks, and is paramount to Northeastern’s approach to learning in the age of humanics, and the integration of technological, data, and human literacies in courses throughout our programs. Many of our research efforts also rely on and foster such integration. Nicole Aljoe, Associate Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies, co-directs the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, a publicly available digital archive platform where undergraduate and graduate students can access, investigate and contribute to pre-twentieth-century Caribbean history. Dan O’Brien, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Criminology and Criminal Justice, directs the Boston Area Research Initiative, which advances urban scholarship and improves public policy and practice. He is the author of The Urban Commons: How Data and Technology Can Rebuild our Communities, which the American Political Science Association recognized with the 2019 Dennis Judd Best Book Award for the best book in urban politics.
A powerful driver of experiential learning is the multigenerational research team, in which students at all levels — undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral — work with faculty to develop research questions and applications. For example, the Violence and Justice Research Lab (VJRL), led by Amy Farrell and Carlos Cuevas, Associate Professor and Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice respectively, uses a structured mentoring system for research on the relationship between the justice system and violence and victimization. The lab brings together faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students from disciplines across the college to advance social welfare and impact policy. Frameworks for undergraduate research in CSSH are available on our website.
The integration of research, teaching and engagement that defines the Experiential Liberal Arts also shapes the college’s three areas of strategic focus, which align with the university’s forward-looking goals described in Northeastern 2025.
The CSSH focus on integrating resilience and sustainability is illustrated by the work of scholars such as University Distinguished Professor Phil Brown, who directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. One of the institute’s teams has collected and mapped public drinking water data from across the U.S. and the globe. Their research has shown that toxic chemicals are found in the drinking water of 15 million Americans. As part of the Institute’s work, Sara Wylie, Assistant Professor Sociology and Health Science, is conducting interdisciplinary research with faculty in Khoury College of Computer Sciences to improve individual engagement in citizen science, with applications in disaster response and regional resilience. 2018 Sociology PhD graduate Anjuli Fahlberg won the 2019 Best Dissertation Prize from the American Sociological Associate for her dissertation titled, “Activism Under Fire: Violence, Poverty, and Collective Action in Rio de Janeiro.” She also recently wrote an op-ed on the subject for the Washington Post.
In our second area of strategic focus, cultural transformations, governance, and globalization, faculty and students engage in careful cross-cultural, historical, and comparative analysis, with attention to questions of culture, society, and citizenship, in order to help develop effective and just modes of governance across the broad range of political settings, from the local to the international. For example, CSSH and the Northeastern Ethics Institute are hosting the Luce Foundation funded Sacred Writes program, which provides support, resources, and networks for religion scholars committed to translating the significance of their research to a broader audience. Liza Weinstein, Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Serena Parekh, Director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy, and Cameron Blevins, Assistant Professor of History, have received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a 2020 Summer Institute for college and university teachers through the Northeastern Humanities Center. Using the city of Boston as a touchstone and laboratory, the Institute will equip participants for research and teaching at the intersection of geography and the humanities, with particular attention to digital humanities approaches. As a collaboration with Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the Public Evaluation Lab is an interdisciplinary lab comprised of faculty and student teams conducting evaluation research on what is/is not successful in various community programs designed to foster healthier communities and enhance the lives of those living within them. Students in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs (SPPUA) complete their degree requirements by participating in a group capstone project in conjunction with and in service to a public or non-profit sector partner. One example of a capstone is “Carbon Neutrality,” in which students David Snowdown, Jiaoqi Liu, Moire Loftus, Hannah Lyons, and Yuwei Zou partnered with the Institute for Sustainable Energy to create a mixed policy approach for improving information awareness, community collaborations, and building regulations with the goal of reducing carbon emissions in Boston.
Our third area of focus, network science, digital humanities, and information ethics, informs research with wide-ranging implications. The Ethics Institute brings ethical analysis and evaluation to bear on social and environmental issues, while conducting original research in the areas of applied and religious ethics, ethical theory, social and political philosophy, and formal methods in ethics and epistemology. From data collection/use and artificial intelligence to machine learning, social networks, robotics, and more, CSSH is at the forefront in addressing the social and ethical challenges and opportunities that arise from the interactions between information technologies and social systems. To discuss these issues, the annual Information Ethics Roundtable brings together researchers from disciplines such as philosophy, information science, communications, public administration, anthropology, and law, to address topics and issues in censorship, information privacy, intellectual property, and intellectual freedom.
Students and faculty tackle big questions from a variety of perspectives in majors ranging from English to sociology. Many of our students choose interdisciplinary programs such as international affairs, or PPE. Many also choose one of over 75 combined majors including history and computer science, criminal justice and psychology, political science and environmental studies, and economics and business, to name a few.
To learn more about our work in the Experiential Liberal Arts, our three areas of focus, and the mission of the CSSH, I invite you to follow CSSH Student Pathways and explore our academic programs, research initiatives, and public engagement activities on the college’s website.