Features of Intellectual Traditions “IT”
A central part of the Honors College’s Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum, Intellectual Traditions helps prepare students to make informed decisions about complex, interdisciplinary problems. These seminars teach students to speak and write persuasively, be intellectually adventurous, recognize the limits of specialization and careerism, and adopt more active relationships to present systems of thought and governance. Both in class and in written assignments, students are encouraged to recognize that the key lessons they are learning about the value of looking closely, thinking critically, and communicating clearly apply more broadly, not just in their other courses, but also in their larger roles as community members and citizens.
The following features are common across all Intellectual Traditions courses:
Intellectual Traditions courses aim to familiarize students with important universal questions—questions such as “What does it mean to be human?”, “Is there objective truth?”, “What does it mean to be part of a community?”, and “What is our proper relationship to the earth?” Expansive questions invite all students—regardless of their major—to gather around subjects of shared, ongoing concern. In doing so, students come to recognize that their diversity is part of what makes the course powerful and effective.
IT introduces students to what it means to think historically. To help students appreciate the diversity of human culture across time and instill a sense of historical consciousness, readings are diverse with respect to period, drawing from ancient, medieval, and early modern sources to avoid both tokenism and presentism.
Intellectual Traditions courses promote students’ ability to engage directly with new ideas as scholars. Most Honors students arrive at the University of Utah proficient at the task of searching for information. Although the ability to effectively locate secondary sources is an important skill, it can sometimes manifest itself as a willingness to offload the task of thinking onto others. Intellectual Traditions courses provide a unique opportunity for students to learn to think on their own. Encountering unfamiliar objects making unexpected intellectual and ethical demands, students work to define and respond to problems that have not been identified for them in advance. Encountering texts and other historical artifacts directly, students strengthen their ability to engage with and appreciate ideas that may initially seem difficult and uncomfortably foreign. Unaware of what has already been said, students must decide not only on answers, but also on the questions to which those answers will respond.
Intellectual Traditions courses are conducted as seminars, with the strong expectation that all students participate in the class’s ongoing conversation. There are multiple ways for them to do so, including large and small group discussions, formal debates, individual presentations, Reacting to the Past games, and virtual chats on Canvas. These opportunities to practice dialogue help develop openness to new perspectives, building confidence and collegiality.
These lessons in oral communication are supplemented by a writing-intensive curriculum. Students are required to use writing to further their thinking and understanding, employing critical analysis as a way of going beyond in-class discussions. Students learn how to ask and answer questions that are precise, debatable, significant, and answerable with the evidence at hand.