The IPH Major

Why a major in the Humanities?

The humanities bring you into contact with both the traditional and the unconventional ideas and beliefs that have shaped history. With the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities (IPH) as your major, the most influential works in the American and European traditions serve as a springboard for individual explorations that lead beyond the boundaries of a single academic discipline. You will study at the intersections of literature, language, philosophy, history, and the arts, where the synergies and contrasts among these disciplines yield stimulating intellectual challenges and intriguing new insights.

The Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities is a rigorous, interdisciplinary major designed for students seeking honors.

The major combines:

  • An introductory core consisting of a concentrated study of texts central to the American and European philosophical, religious, and literary traditions 
  • An area of concentration with an advanced sequence of courses and research tailored to the special interests of each student in the program.

Combining a core of knowledge, foreign-language proficiency, critical, analytic, and research skills, IPH is a challenging major for creative, intellectually ambitious students. You'll be well prepared for a range of graduate programs in the humanities, a future in academia, or a professional career in law or public service - and for the vital work of critical citizenship and path-breaking problem-solving.


Foreign Language & Study Abroad

Foreign Language Study

Foreign language study is central to the IPH, and there is no better way to learn a modern foreign language than to immerse yourself in its culture. Students in the IPH are strongly encouraged to participate in foreign language programs in the summers following their first and second years at Washington University. The sooner students develop their language skills, the sooner they can bring the literary works, philosophical texts, and various historical archives of other cultures into focus without the competing refractions of translation.


Study Abroad Options

Summer programs can help a student substantially accelerate progress in foreign language study. Because of the importance of the IPH Junior Colloquium and Junior Thesis Workshop, both of which are held in the spring, IPH students who wish to study abroad during the junior academic year should do so in the fall semester of the junior year.


Admission to the Program

If you wish to pursue a major in IPH, you will need to complete either a four-course core of courses in Text & Traditions or an Ampersand program in the humanities with an additional two-course selection in Text & Traditions (one of which must be on pre-modern culture). To apply to the major, students will participate in the sophomore review by submitting a portfolio of three academic essays (6-10 pages each) previously written for a T&T or Ampersand course, providing a short email from one professor in support of your admission to the major and meeting with the director and two IPH faculty.

Contact us for more information and deadlines

Program Requirements

Ampersand or Beyond Boundaries Programs in the humanities are entry points to a major in the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities. Text and Traditions students will take four core courses. Students who take a humanities-based Beyond Boundaries course will take three core courses. Humanities-based Ampersand students will take two T&T core courses. In all cases, at least one of these courses must focus on the pre-modern period.  For T&T students, one course must also focus on the modern period. All students must have a passing grade of C or better in IPH Major, T&T minor and DASH Minor courses. 


Students will complete four courses of a foreign language in sequence (as defined by the appropriate academic unit). Students who switch languages in the course of their IPH degree will be required to complete at least three consecutive courses of one foreign language before taking the Language Application Exercise. Non-native speakers of English will fulfill the IPH language requirement by taking courses in a language other than English and other than their own native language, unless the IPH Steering Committee has reason to grant an exception (e.g. if a student’s native language is central to their research). Early in Fall of your Senior year, a language application exercise will be administered in order to assess the ability to translate, comprehend, and analyze passages from texts chosen and studied by the student.


The Sophomore Tutorial is a practical introduction to research in the humanities. In spring of your sophomore year, you will develop a specialty and undertake an independent research project under the mentorship of an appropriate faculty member.  


In your sophomore year, under the guidance of your IPH adviser, you will develop a plan to complete a five-course cluster of courses, with three courses in a single discipline, related to their area of research interest. This cluster must be completed before the Spring semester of you senior year. Up to two of these courses may be taken abroad.

Junior Comprehensive Exam

Program participants are encouraged to take a comprehensive exam during the spring of the junior year. The exam will enable students to demonstrate their knowledge of the core Text & Traditions courses (or, their combination of T&T and Ampersand courses) as well as their developing expertise in the area of their concentration. Placed near the end of the third year of study, the comprehensive exam encourages students to integrate their coursework at a critical period in their University careers - just before they embark on the exhilarating research and writing involved in the senior thesis. Because of its historical, cultural, and methodological breadth, the junior exam reflects our commitment to making the program's particular courses and independent studies add up to much more than the sum of the parts.

Preparing for Senior Year

Every senior undertakes a senior thesis project. In fall of their junior year, students consult with their faculty advisors about potential thesis topics. The following spring, our majors will enroll in L93 405 Theory and Methods and L93 401 Thesis Prospectus Workshop to develop their thesis topic and produce a feasible thesis proposal under the guidance of IPH faculty. 

Seeking Honors

IPH is an ideal program for students seeking academic honors. The level of Latin honors - cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude - is determined by the candidate's overall GPA and the College of Arts & Sciences. IPH awards departmental honors based on the same criteria as Latin honors above, but also on the level of performance on the junior comprehensive exam, the quality of the senior thesis, performance in major courses, and recommendations of IPH faculty. IPH Departmental Honors are as follows:

  • Distinction in the IPH
  • Great Distinction in the IPH
  • Highest Distinction in the IPH

All students seeking departmental honors must sit for the junior exam. Students who do not receive an honors-level mark for the exam may elect to retake the exam in the senior year.

Senior Year

In the fall of your Senior year, you will take L93 403 Senior Thesis Tutorial and L93 450 Interdisciplinary Topics in the Humanities in addition to meeting regularly with your thesis mentors. In addition, they will take the language application exercise. In the spring of your Senior year, you will take L93 455 IPH Senior Colloquium and students will have a full senior thesis draft submitted to their advisors and will defend their work later that semester.

Major Specialization

Area of Concentration

Some degree of specialization is a useful aspect of education in the humanities. With their faculty mentors, students construct a coherent, interdisciplinary sequence of five courses for advanced study. Each student's sequence, or "area of concentration," which must always include at least one course in political or cultural history, will normally be taken between the third and seventh semesters of the program. Three of these courses must be centered in a discipline within the Humanities and interpretive Social Sciences. 

Models of Concentration

  • The study of the cultural and political life of a nation or region over the space of a couple of centuries. By "cultural life" we mean the aggregate of literature, visual and musical culture, theater, philosophy, religion, and received ideas.
  • The study of two or more closely-related national or regional cultures over the space of a (long) century. The concentrations of students interested in Medieval or Renaissance Studies would come under this rubric or the previous one.
  • The study of an intellectual discipline or tradition: e.g., political philosophy, aesthetics, historiography, the avant garde in the twentieth-century, etc.
  • The complex study of an aesthetic mode - e.g., realism - or of a cluster of aesthetic or social practices - e.g., orchestral music, sculpture, insult, print. Although this sort of interest might best be served in a traditional department, the novelty and interdisciplinarity of approach or the extra-departmental nature of the object of scrutiny might make the IPH its proper home.

Recent Specializations

  • Urban Culture in Modern China
  • Addiction and Medical Practice
  • Translation in Theory and Practice
  • The Aftermath of Modernist Warfare
  • The Political Economy of 19th Century Germany
  • Mind and New Media
  • Ancient Ethics and Early Christianity
  • Renaissance Material Culture