Great Ideas Change the World

At MIT, a bastion of STEM education, we view the humanities, arts, and social sciences as essential—both for educating great engineers, scientists, scholars, and citizens, and for sustaining the Institute’s capacity for innovation.

Why? Because the Institute’s mission is to advance knowledge and to educate students who are prepared to help solve the world’s most challenging problems—in energy, health care, water and food, and dozens of other fields.

To do this, MIT graduates naturally need advanced technical knowledge and skills—the deep, original thinking about the physical universe that is the genius of the science and engineering fields.

But the world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory, workbench, or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale; and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to political tensions to the quest for social justice.

With that understanding, MIT research and education also focuses on in-depth explorations of human complexities—the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence—as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social science fields.

More succinctly stated, the Institute’s mission in the humanities, arts, and social sciences is twofold:

To generate research that accelerates solutions to the major civilizational issues of our time, and that opens new paths in basic research—the source for future innovation.

To empower students (young scientists, engineers, thinkers, leaders, and citizens) with cultural, political, and economic perspectives, and skills in critical thinking and communication—to help them serve the world well, with innovations and lives that are rich in meaning and wisdom.

MIT excellence

Like MIT itself, the Institute’s humanities, arts, and social science fields are extraordinary. MIT’s social science fields have been ranked, collectively, as first in the world. The MIT economics department and linguistics section have long been considered the finest programs in their fields. The humanities and arts at MIT have been ranked among the three top programs in the world. The Institute’s deep commitment to superb humanities, arts, and social science research and education—in a uniquely strong alliance with the STEM fields—is one key to MIT’s ability to make a better world.

The educational focus

The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) teaches every undergraduate—the only MIT school to do so—and is dedicated to helping all students master the critical skills needed for lives of purpose, well-being, and success. The school is home to five superb graduate programs, all recognized as among the finest in the world. The school also plays the central role in international education at MIT, and in preparing students to be leaders and global citizens. Through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the school’s pioneering applied international education program, MIT students learn how to work, collaborate, lead, and thrive in cultures around the globe.

The research focus

MIT SHASS is designed to advance knowledge across a wide range of intellectual inquiry, and to generate great ideas to meet the world’s great challenges. With 13 academic fields, the school’s vast portfolio includes: history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, economics, international studies, linguistics, comparative media, global studies and languages, music and theater arts, writing, security studies, women’s and gender studies, and political science.

The school’s research in these areas helps alleviate poverty; safeguard elections; steer economies; understand the past and present; assess the impact of new technologies; understand human language; create new forms at the juncture of art and science; and inform both policy and cultural mores on issues including human health, energy, justice, climate, education, manufacturing, and economic equity.

From the school’s conservatory-level music program to the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab to the groundbreaking Visualizing Cultures digital humanities project, the Institute’s humanities, arts, and social science fields illuminate big questions, create, problem solve—and bring meaning into the world.

Published in April 2016.

Share this story