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Liberal arts education

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Liberal arts education

Philosophia et septem artes liberales, The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

The liberal arts (Latin: artes liberales) are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (Latin: liberal, "worthy of a free person")[1] to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that (for Ancient Greece) included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service. Grammar, rhetoric, and logic were the core liberal arts, while arithmetic, geometry, the theory of music, and astronomy also played a (somewhat lesser) part in education.[2]

In modern times, liberal arts education is a term that can be interpreted in different ways. It can refer to certain areas of literature, languages, art history, music history, philosophy, history, mathematics, psychology, and science.[3] It can also refer to studies on a liberal arts degree program. For example, Harvard University offers a Master of Liberal Arts degree, which covers biological and social sciences as well as the humanities.[4] For both interpretations, the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational, or technical curricula.


  • History 1
  • Modern usage 2
  • School structure 3
  • In the United States 4
  • In Europe 5
  • In Australia 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Rooted in the basic curriculum - the enkuklios paideia or "education in a circle" - of late Classical and Hellenistic Greece, the "liberal arts" or "liberal pursuits" (Latin liberalia studia) were already so called in formal education during the Roman Empire: thus Seneca the Younger discusses liberal arts in education from a critical Stoic point of view in Moral Epistle 88.[5] Contrary to popular belief, freeborn girls were as likely to receive formal education as boys, especially during the Roman Empire—unlike the lack of education, or purely manual/technical skills, proper to a slave.[6] The exact classification of the liberal arts varied however in Roman times,[7] and it was only after Martianus Capella in the 5th century AD influentially brought the seven liberal arts as bridesmaids to the Marriage of Mercury and Philology,[8] that they took on canonical form.

The four 'scientific' artes – music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy (or astrology) – were known from the time of Boethius onwards as the Quadrivium; while after the 9thC the remaining three arts of the 'humanities' – grammar, rhetoric and logic - were classed as well as the Trivium.[7] It was in that two-fold form that the seven liberal arts were studied in the medieval Western university.[9][10] During the Middle Ages, logic gradually came to take predominance over the other parts of the Trivium.[11] In the Renaissance, the Italian humanists and their Northern counterparts, despite in many respects continuing the traditions of the Middle Ages, reversed that process.[12] Re-christening the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name: Studia humanitatis, and also increasing its scope, they downplayed logic as opposed to the traditional Latin grammar and rhetoric, and added to them history, Greek, and moral philosophy (ethics), with a new emphasis on poetry as well.[13] The educational curriculum of humanism spread throughout Europe during the sixteenth century and became the educational foundation for the schooling of European elites, the functionaries of political administration, the clergy of the various legally recognized churches, and the learned professions of law and medicine.[14] The ideal of a liberal arts, or humanistic education grounded in classical languages and literature, persisted until the middle of the twentieth century.

Modern usage

Architecture, Mathematics, science, arts, and language can all be considered part of the liberal arts. Some subsections of the liberal arts are trivium—the verbal arts: logic, grammar, and rhetoric; and quadrivium—the numerical arts: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Analyzing and interpreting

School structure

The liberal arts education prepares the student for higher education at a university. They are thus meant for the more academically minded students. In addition to the usual curriculum, students of a liberal arts education often study Latin and Ancient Greek.

Some liberal arts education provide general education, others have a specific focus. (This also differs from country to country.) The four traditional branches are:

Curricula differ from school to school, but generally include language, mathematics, informatics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, art (as well as crafts and design), music, history, philosophy, civics / citizenship,[15] social sciences, and several foreign languages.

Schools concentrate not only on academic subjects, but on producing well-rounded individuals, so physical education and religion or ethics are compulsory, even in non-denominational schools which are prevalent. For example, the German constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, so although religion or ethics classes are compulsory, students may choose to study a specific religion or none at all.

Today, a number of other areas of specialization exist, such as gymnasiums specializing in economics, technology or domestic sciences. In some countries, there is a notion of progymnasium, which is equivalent to beginning classes of the full gymnasium, with the rights to continue education in a gymnasium. Here, the prefix "pro" indicates that this curriculum precedes normal gymnasium studies.

In the United States

In the United States, liberal arts colleges are schools emphasizing undergraduate study in the liberal arts.[16] Traditionally earned over four years of full-time study, some universities such as Saint Leo University,[17] Pennsylvania State University,[18] Florida Institute of Technology[19] and New England College[20] have begun to offer an associate degree in liberal arts. Most students earn either a Bachelor of Arts degree or a Bachelor of Science degree; on completing undergraduate study, students might progress to either a graduate school or a professional school (public administration, engineering, business, law, medicine, theology). The teaching is Socratic, typically with small classes, and often has a lower student-to-teacher ratio than at large universities; professors teaching classes are allowed to concentrate more on their teaching responsibilities than primary research professors or graduate student teaching assistants, in contrast to the instruction common in universities.

In Europe

In most parts of Europe liberal arts education is deeply rooted. In Germany, Austria and countries influenced by their education system, e.g. it is called "humanistische Bildung" (humanistic education). The term is not to be mixed up with some modern educational concepts that use a similar wording. Educational institutions that see themselves in that tradition are often a "Gymnasium" (high school, grammar school). They aim at providing their pupils with comprehensive education (Bildung) in order to form personality with regard to a pupil's own humanity as well as his/her innate intellectual skills. Going back to the long tradition of the liberal arts in Europe, education in the above sense was freed from scholastic thinking and re-shaped by the theorists of enlightenment. In particular Wilhelm von Humboldt played a key role in that regard. Since students are considered to have received a comprehensive liberal arts education at grammar schools, very often, the role of liberal arts education in undergraduate education at universities is reduced compared to the US educational system. Students are expected to use their skills received at the grammar school in order to further develop their personality in their own responsibility, e.g. in universities' music clubs, theater groups, language clubs etc. Universities encourage students to do so and offer respective opportunities, but do not make such activities part of the university's curriculum.

Thus, on the level of higher education, despite the European origin of the liberal arts college,[21] the term liberal arts college usually denotes liberal arts colleges in the United States. With the exception of pioneering institutions such as Franklin University Switzerland (formerly known as Franklin College), established as a Europe-based, US-style liberal arts college in 1969,[22] only recently some efforts have been undertaken to systematically "re-import" liberal arts education to continental Europe, as with Leiden University College The Hague, University College Utrecht, University College Maastricht, Amsterdam University College, Roosevelt Academy (now University College Roosevelt),ATLAS University College, Erasmus University College, University College Groningen, Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts, and the European College of Liberal Arts. As well as the colleges listed above, some universities in the Netherlands offer bachelors programs in Liberal Arts and Sciences (Tilburg University). In the United Kingdom, King's College London and University College London launched liberal arts programmes in 2012. It is the curriculum of Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan for Bachelors, the only institute in the country which offers this program.

Liberal arts (as a degree program) is just beginning to establish itself in Europe. For example, University College Dublin offers the degree, as does

  • Trivium Education. A website featuring online lectures in the liberal arts.
  • Definition and short history of the Seven Liberal Arts from 1905.  
  • , February 2002. Thomas Aquinas's definition of and justification for a liberal arts education.Edocere, a Resource for Catholic EducationFr. Herve de la Tour, "The Seven Liberal Arts",
  • . New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Retrieved 13 August 2012.The Catholic EncyclopediaOtto Willmann. "The Seven Liberal Arts". In "[Renaissance] Humanists, over-fond of change, unjustly condemned the system of the seven liberal arts as barbarous. It is no more barbarous than the Gothic style, a name intended to be a reproach. The Gothic, built up on the conception of the old basilica, ancient in origin, yet Christian in character, was misjudged by the Renaissance on account of some excrescences, and obscured by the additions engrafted upon it by modern lack of taste . . . . That the achievements of our forefathers should be understood, recognized, and adapted to our own needs, is surely to be desired."
  • "The Aim of Liberal Education", Andrew Chrucky, 1 September 2003. "The content of a liberal education should be moral problems as provided by history, anthropology, sociology, economics, and politics. And these should be discussed along with a reflection on the nature of morality and the nature of discussions, i.e., through a study of rhetoric and logic. Since discussion takes place in language, an effort should be made to develop a facility with language."
  • Philosophy of Liberal Education A bibliography, compiled by Andrew Chrucky, with links to essays offering different points of view on the meaning of a liberal education.
  • , 14 May 2012.College News (The Annapolis Group)Mark Peltz, "The Liberal Arts and Leadership", A defense of liberal education by the Associate Dean of Grinnell College (first appeared in Inside Higher Ed).
  • "Liberal Arts at the Community College", an ERIC Fact Sheet. ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
  • "A Descriptive Analysis of the Community College Liberal Arts Curriculum". ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA
  • The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts. Website about The Wabash Study (for improving liberal education). Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College (Indiana), the Wabash Study began in the fall of 2010 and is scheduled to end in 2013. Participants include 29 prominent colleges and universities.
  • .Academic Commons An online platform in support of the liberal education community. It is a forum for sharing practices, outcomes, and lessons learned of online learning. Formerly sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, The Academic Commons is hosted by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education ("NITLE".).
  • . Website dedicated to "Bridging the gap between business and the liberal arts".The Liberal Arts Advantage - for Business "A liberal arts education is aimed at developing the ability to think, reason, analyze, decide, discern, and evaluate. That’s in contrast to a professional or technical education (business, engineering, computer science, etc.) which develops specific abilities aimed at preparing students for vocations."
  • Video explanation by Professor Nigel Tubbs of liberal arts curriculum and degree requirements of Winchester University, UK.. "Liberal arts education (Latin: liberalis, free, and ars, art or principled practice) involves us in thinking philosophically across many subject boundaries in the humanities, the social and natural sciences, and fine arts. The degree combines compulsory modules covering art, religion, literature, science and the history of ideas with a wide range of optional modules. This enables students to have flexibility and control over their programme of study and the content of their assessments."

External links

  • Barzun, Jacques. The House of Intellect, Reprint Harper Perennial, 2002.
  • Blaich, Charles, Anne Bost, Ed Chan, and Richard Lynch. "Defining Liberal Arts Education." Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, 2004.
  • Blanshard, Brand. The Uses of a Liberal Education: And Other Talks to Students. (Open Court, 1973. ISBN 0-8126-9429-5)
  • Friedlander, Jack. Measuring the Benefits of Liberal Arts Education in Washington's Community Colleges. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1982a. (ED 217 918)
  • Grafton Anthony and Lisa Jardine. From Humanism to the Humanities: The Institutionalizing of the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Europe, Harvard University Press, 1987.
  • Guitton, Jean. A Student's Guide to Intellectual Work, The University of Notre Dame Press, 1964.
  • Highet, Gilbert. The Art of Teaching, Vintage Books, 1950.
  • Joseph, Sister Miriam. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Paul Dry Books Inc, 2002.
  • Kimball, Bruce A. The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Documentary History. University Press Of America, 2010.
  • Kimball, Bruce A. Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education. College Board, 1995.
  • T. Kaori Kitao, William R. Kenan, Jr. (27 March 1999). The Usefulness Of Uselessness. Keynote Address, The 1999 Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth's Odyssey at Swarthmore College. 
  • McGrath, Charles. "What Every Student Should Know", New York Times, 8 January 2006.
  • Parker, H. "The Seven Liberal Arts," The English Historical Review, Vol. V, 1890.
  • Pfnister, Allen O. "The Role of the Liberal Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 55, No. 2 (March/April 1984): 145–170.
  • Reeves, Floyd W. "The Liberal-Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 1, No. 7 (1930): 373–380.
  • Saint-Victor, Hugh of. The Didascalicon, Columbia University Press, 1961.
  • Schall, James V. Another Sort of Learning, Ignatius Press, 1988.
  • Seidel, George. "Saving the Small College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 39, No. 6 (1968): 339–342.
  • Sertillanges, A. G. The Intellectual Life, The Catholic University of America Press, 1998.
  • Tubbs, N. (2011) "Know Thyself: Macrocosm and Microcosm" in Volume 30 no.1Studies in Philosophy and Education
  • Winterer, Caroline.The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Wriston, Henry M. The Nature of a Liberal College. Lawrence University Press, 1937.

Further reading

  1. ^ Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages [1948], trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 37. The classical sources include Cicero, De Oratore, I.72–73, III.127, and De re publica, I.30.
  2. ^ E. B. Castle, Ancient Education and Today (1969) p. 59
  3. ^ "Liberal Arts: Encyclopædia Britannica Concise".  
  4. ^ Master of Liberal Arts on Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  5. ^ Ben Schneider. "Seneca Epistle 88". Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  6. ^ H. I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity [1948], trans. George Lamb (London: Sheed & Ward, 1956), pp. 266–67.
  7. ^ a b H. Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric (1998) p. 10
  8. ^ Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars (1968) p. 25
  9. ^ "In the Light Of the Above"James Burke: The Day the Universe Changed . 
  10. ^ Wagner, David Leslie (1983). The Seven liberal arts in the Middle Ages. Indiana University Press.   at Questia [1]
  11. ^ Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars (1968) p. 141-3
  12. ^ G. Norton ed., The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol 3 (1999)p. 46 and p. 601-4
  13. ^ Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), p. 178.
  14. ^ Charles G. Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (New Approaches to European History) (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 172-173.
  15. ^ this subject has different names in the different states of Germany. See Gemeinschaftskunde
  16. ^ "Defining Liberal Arts Education". Wabash College. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "Online Liberal Arts Associate Degree". Saint Leo University. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  18. ^ "Online Associate in Arts in Letters, Arts, and Sciences | Overview". Penn State University. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  19. ^ "Associate's Degree in Liberal Arts - Liberal Arts Degree Online". Florida Institute of Technology. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  20. ^ "Associates in Liberal Studies".  
  21. ^ Harriman, Philip (1935). "Antecedents of the Liberal Arts College". The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1935), pp. 63–71. 
  22. ^ "About Franklin". Franklin University Switzerland Official Web Site. Franklin University Switzerland. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  23. ^ "Berlin's sturdiest ivory tower". Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "GERMANY: New approach to liberal studies". 15 March 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  25. ^ "BA (Hons) Modern Liberal Arts". University of Winchester. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  26. ^ "Arts and Sciences (BASc) programmes". University College London. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  27. ^ "KCL - About Liberal Arts". Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  28. ^ "Liberal Arts and Sciences Program (LAS)". University College Freiburg. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  29. ^ "Liberal Arts, Gothenburg University". 22 May 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  30. ^ "Liberal Arts Programme at Uppsala University"
  31. ^ "Agile". Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  32. ^ "ილიაუნი -მთავარი". Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  33. ^ "Bachelor Degree". Iliauni. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 


See also

Campion College is a Roman Catholic dedicated Liberal Arts college, located in the western suburbs of Sydney. Founded in 2006, it is the first tertiary educational Liberal Arts college of its type in Australia. Campion offers a Bachelor of Arts in the Liberal Arts as its sole undergraduate degree. The key disciplines studied are history, literature, philosophy and theology.

In Australia


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