The Bachelor of Arts degree program in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities (ISHum) offers qualified undergraduates the opportunity to shape an interdisciplinary plan of course work centered in but not necessarily restricted to study in the humanities. The program is meant to accommodate a course of study that could not be carried out easily within a single disciplinary major.

One of the notable features of the program is the requirement that every ISHum major complete a formal BA paper at the end of his or her term of study. In these papers ISHum students integrate their disparate fields of interest in truly interdisciplinary ways. The BA paper will normally be a work of analysis and research. It is also possible to make a creative BA project (in, for instance, poetry, visual art, or theater), which would be accompanied by an analytical write-up of the project’s methodology and its conceptual background or range of implications.

A University of Chicago undergraduate interested in becoming an ISHum major must submit an application. This application consists of the student’s selection and rationalization of a plan of courses that form a discrete field of interdisciplinary study. The application process is designed to make clear in each individual case what intellectual concerns are to be related to one another through interdisciplinary study and what method of comparative analysis is suited to such an approach.

Each student’s ISHum program of study comprises a primary field of six courses and two supporting fields of three courses each. (The ISHum degree program is laid out in detail on the Concentration Requirements page.) Below is a list of the titles that some current and recent students have given to their fields, primary field first.

The Role of Sculpture; Media Theory and Art-Historical Perspectives; Gender and Its Role in Media.

Subjectvity; Ethnic/Racial/Class Studies; Arts and Perception.

Film/Performance Studies; Interdisciplinary Study of (Bodily) Animacy/Inanimacy/Humanity; Czech Cultural Studies.

Theories and Histories of Media; Media Culture and Its Objects; Photography in Practice.

Theater; Linguistics; Creative Writing.

History of Aesthetics; Philosophy; Cultural Anthropology.

Slavic Literature; Germanic Literature; Literary Theory and Psychoanalysis.

Discourses on the Modern in Philosophy and Literature; Reading the Contemporary Art Object; Foundations of the Modernist Text.

Theoretical Approaches to Identity; Trauma, Commemoration, and Historical Memory; Community, Identity, and Art.

Predictability vs. Spontaneity, and Their Respective Relations to Good and Evil; God as External, and Therefore Metaphysical; God as Internal, and Therefore Aesthetic.


The program now known as Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities was founded and first chaired by Norman Maclean, known most widely for his novella A River Runs Through It. It was instituted from the beginning as a major in which a student could design an individual course of study which was supervised individually by a faculty member. Each student constructed a plan of courses in the major that formalized a diverse set of interests—interests that might have been discovered while moving through the general-education requirements of the College's famously deep Core. In short, the idea of an interdisciplinary major was made necessary by the breadth of learning that defined an undergraduate education at Chicago.

Early on, as General Studies in the Humanities, the program naturally came to attract students whose interests fell outside of the terms in which the other academic departments of the University operated in that era. These included the study of film, and of theater and performing arts—both areas of study which GSHum professors and students in fact introduced to the University. Chairpersons starting from the 1970s include Janel Mueller, Herman Sinaiko, David Bevington, and Malynne Sternstein. At around the turn of the last decade, GSHum was renamed ISHum in order to emphasize what is unique about the program: the expectation that students will synthesize their own understandings from their experience of a set of academic disciplines that do not necessarily think about one another.

The focus on theater among ISHum students led last decade to the creation of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) as a sub-department of ISHum. TAPS has now grown to be a separate academic unit, and students who are interested primarily in the study of theater and performance are encouraged to apply there. ISHum still welcomes students who wish to correlate an interest in theater and performance with other academic interests, as we welcome interdisciplinarians of any stripe.

Jiri Kolar

Jiří Kolář, from Haškova Praha (Hasek's Prague)