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What are the Liberal Arts? - UMD CLA

What are the Liberal Arts?

The term “liberal arts” refers to a grouping of disciplines that, in Western culture, are considered essential for adequate education and civic participation: the Humanities (Arts, English, Foreign Languages, History, and Philosophy), the Social Sciences (Anthropology, Communication, Geography, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies), the Sciences (Biology, Geology, and Physics), and Mathematics.

The ancient Greeks established the importance of a liberal arts foundation to an educated citizenry, and ever since then universities like UMD have committed themselves to a liberal arts education for every student.

A liberal arts foundation will teach you to

1. analyze and interpret information
2. form and express informed opinions
3. communicate effectively
4. appreciate the richness of a diverse human culture
5. better understand human nature and society

While these skills are valuable by themselves, they form the backbone of what’s been called the “conceptual economy”. Daniel Pink, business writer and former speechwriter for Vice-Resident Al Gore, points out that today’s college graduates need to master six critical skills to succeed in the conceptual economy of the 21st century:

1. Design (The ability to conceptualize and think creatively)
2. Story (The ability to tell a story, to use metaphor and to write and speak clearly)
3. Symphony (The ability to summarize and synthesize information, to bring various ideas and people together to work as a team).
4. Empathy (The ability to immerse yourself in someone else's culture, and to be tolerant of ideas contrary to one’s own cultural tradition).
5. Play (The ability to imagine, to be humorous, and to utilize game strategies in everyday problem solving).
6. Meaning (The ability to seek out meaningful, non-material activities, to appreciate symbolic culture, and to develop lasting meaningful career skills).

These six skills very much overlap with the five core aspects of a liberal arts education listed above. The College of Liberal Arts offers students courses to strengthen all of these six skills that will make a difference in their careers, and major that incorporate all of these skills into their curriculum. For a list of CLA courses, grouped by these skills, click here.

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