The Core Curriculum is the heart of the Columbia College education. The central intellectual mission of the Core is to provide all students with wide-ranging perspectives, a deeper understanding of history, and critical and creative thinking skills through the study of literature, science, philosophy, music, and art.
The Core was the first college general education program in the United States, launched as a single course, Contemporary Civilization, in 1919 with the goal of preparing students to grapple with “the insistent problems of the present.” In a context of global crisis, social reform, and widespread debates about the aims and methods of higher learning, Columbia College offered Contemporary Civilization as a bold experiment in what philosopher John Dewey called “progressive education.” That is, rather than focusing on the transmission of knowledge and the development of expertise, Contemporary Civilization would provide students with a space to develop their own ideas and create knowledge collectively at the intersection of historical consciousness and self-awareness.
In the century that followed, the Core evolved considerably, adding Literature Humanities in 1937 and Art Humanities and Music Humanities a decade later. That same year, 1947, a new course in Asian Humanities was introduced, adding a further global dimension to the curriculum. What is now called the Global Core — formerly Major Cultures — became a requirement in 1990. After decades of failed attempts to include scientific inquiry in the curriculum, Frontiers of Science was launched as a Core requirement in 2004. Together, these Core courses explore the stories, ideas, images, sounds, and discoveries through which we make ourselves intelligible to one another.
Each course in the Core undergoes regular review and revision to respond to the ever-changing challenges of our modern world and to incorporate a growing number of perspectives and experiences. Through all of these changes, the Core has provided an enriching liberal arts experience of community, active learning, and interdisciplinary inquiry in the larger context of a research university. The Core creates a shared intellectual experience for students that is rooted in mutual respect, fostering close and lasting intellectual relationships with peers and faculty through discussion. This community extends across course sections, class years, and even generations.
Working in small seminars, students engage actively with difficult works and concepts early in their college careers, preparing them for more advanced academic work in their chosen fields of study. The general academic skills that students develop in Core classes are useful in a range of contexts, counterbalancing the specialization of chosen majors. Most importantly, Core courses give students the opportunity to experiment with ideas, pursue their own inquiries, develop their own perspectives, and critique the shared opinions and social practices of our world through an understanding of their histories. In this way, the Core prepares students for a lifetime of critical and creative intelligence.
The Center for the Core Curriculum, located in 202 Hamilton, provides administrative support to faculty and students in Art Humanities, Contemporary Civilization, Frontiers of Science, Literature Humanities, and Music Humanities. The Center can be contacted at email@example.com.
The Committee on the Core Curriculum manages the academic elements of the Core, with faculty representatives from Art Humanities, Contemporary Civilization, Frontiers of Science, Literature Humanities, Music Humanities, University Writing, and the Global Core, as well as administrators and student representatives from Columbia College and General Studies. In the 2023-24 academic year, the following members will comprise the Committee:
Dean of Columbia College
208 Hamilton; 212-854-2443
Ruben L. Gonzalez Jr.
Professor of Chemistry
Chair of Frontiers of Science
614 Havemeyer; 212-854-1096
Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Professor of the Humanities
Chair of the Committee on Global Core
305 Casa Hispánica; 212-854-4338
Dean of Academic Affairs
202 Hamilton Hall; 212-851-9814
- Joseph A. Howley
- Associate Professor of Classics
- Paul Brooke Program Chair for Literature Humanities
- 601 Hamilton; 212-854-7856
Ivana Nikolic Hughes
Director of Frontiers of Science
Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Chemistry
625 Pupin; 212-854-2202
- Larry Jackson
- Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Core Curriculum and Undergraduate Programs
- 202 Hamilton; 212-854-9625
- Caroline Marvin
- Dean of Academic Affairs, Columbia School of General Studies
- 612 Lewisohn; 212-854-3608
- Carol Rovane
- Violin Family Professor of Philosophy
- Carnoy Family Program Chair for Contemporary Civilization
- 711 Philosophy; 212-854-8618
Elaine Sisman (fall 2023)
Anne Parsons Bender Professor of Music
Chair of Music Humanities
604 Dodge; 212-854-7728
Benjamin A. Steege (spring 2024)
Associate Professor of Music
Chair of Music Humanities
621 Dodge; 212-854-8191
Riggio Professor of African Art
Chair of Art Humanities
811 Schermerhorn; 212-854-8529
Nicole B. Wallack
Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of English and Comparative Literature
Director of Undergraduate Writing Program
310 Philosophy; 212-854-3886