Michigan State University
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Center of Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities
Center of Integrative Studies
in the Arts and Humanities

Mission and Goals of Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities

The mission of Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities is to help students to become more familiar with ways of knowing in the arts and humanities and to be more knowledgeable and capable in a range of intellectual and expressive abilities.  IAH courses encourage students to engage critically with their own society, history, and culture(s); they also encourage students to learn more about the history and culture of other societies.  Our courses focus on key ideas and issues in human experience; encourage appreciation of the roles of knowledge and values in shaping and understanding human behavior; emphasize the responsibilities and opportunities of democratic citizenship; highlight the value of the creative arts of literature, theater, music, and arts; and alert us to important issues that occur among peoples in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent world.

The goals of IAH courses are to assist students to

  • Cultivate habits of inquiry and develop investigative strategies from arts and humanities perspectives;
  • Explore social, cultural, and artistic expressions and contexts;
  • Act as culturally aware and ethically responsible citizens in local and global communities;
  • Critically assess, produce, and communicate knowledge in a variety of media for a range of audiences; and
  • Recognize and understand the value of diversity and the significance of interconnectedness in the classroom and beyond.


IAH courses have been offered at Michigan State University since Fall 1992. So this is an opportune time both to reflect on the past quarter-century of IAH and to look forward to the quarter-century to come. The Council to Review the Undergraduate Experience, which recommended establishing an integrative studies approach to general education at MSU in 1988, observed, "In these increasingly complex times, 'preparing' for one specific kind of work has become nearly impossible. Even the most advanced preparation, in many fields, might well be obsolete in only a few years after graduation. Clearly, the undergraduate student must think relentlessly of ways to enhance a number of personal skills. The student must search for opportunities to develop adequate skills in writing and speaking, quantitative reasoning, reading critically and thinking evaluatively. The student must also realize that one of the most sophisticated skills is being able to choose from plentiful resources and create integration around areas of learning." (http://acadgov.msu.edu/historical-reports/crue/dedication).

What was true in the late-20th century is even more true in the early-21st century. The overriding goal for the IAH curriculum thus is not simply to expose students to the arts and humanities but rather to prepare students for the complex world in which they now live and in which they will pursue their careers after they graduate from Michigan State. We want students to think critically and creatively about the nature of the human condition and to engage with enduring questions that are all the more relevant in the world of the 21st century: What does it mean to be "human" at a time when a range of technologies have begun to blur the lines between the human and the non-human, nature and culture? What is the nature of justice in a globalized world marked by inequality, poverty, civil strife, and political upheaval? In short, how does one live a good, meaningful life in the 21st century? We want students in our courses to engage with the challenge of being both productive and ethical as they prepare to live and work in a globalized environment in which the local impacts the global, and the global shapes the local.

So the IAH curriculum is designed to be more than just two degree requirements that simply need to be checked off on the route to earning a baccalaureate at Michigan State University. Our courses offer interdisciplinary approaches to some of the most fundamental and meaningful issues of being human in the contemporary world. But our courses are not simply interdisciplinary—exploring the connections between and within the disciplines in the arts and humanities—but rather are intended to be integrative learning experiences. We want our courses to foster students' understanding of and appreciation for the diversities of the human experience; and we want our students to integrate what they learn in their IAH courses into their own lives. To borrow from Veronica Boix Mansilla's discussion of integrative learning in the Fall 2008 issue of Peer Review, our ambition is for every IAH course "to create a learning community that fosters both intellectual and personal engagement leading to enhanced understanding, respect, and the celebration of differences from the conviction that the skills and knowledge derived from such engagement prepare individuals for meaningful and productive lives as workers and citizens" (31).

Kirk S. Kidwell
Director and Associate Professor