Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program

Summer Humanities 2013The Summer Humanities and Social Sciences program (SHSS) is a five-week program for talented incoming first-year students with a passion for the humanities or social sciences who are from underrepresented minority groups and/or who are first-generation college students. The program has two main goals: First, it provides its students with a preview of the Williams experience and familiarizes them with some of the extraordinary academic opportunities the college offers. Second, we hope that the glimpse of research and teaching afforded by our faculty and resident mentors will inspire some of our students to consider a career in one of the academic fields of the humanities and social sciences.

How to apply for SHSS

To apply for the SHSS program, simply email Bob Blay at [email protected] and let him know that you wish to be entered into the SHSS lottery. Early admits should send this email by February 15; regular decision admits, by May 2. Because we are committed to working closely with individual students and with the whole group, the number of openings in SHSS is limited to 24. Typically, we have more students applying to the program than we can accommodate; therefore, we choose participants by lottery. We try to do the lottery as quickly as possible, and we will let you know by email whether or not you are selected.

SHSS video by Eddy Varela, Class of 2020


As a SHSS student, you take four courses, just as in a regular Williams semester. While the emphasis is on the humanities and social sciences, we include a quantitative economics class to help prepare you for meeting your divisional requirements and to introduce you to skills you may need in a variety of classes. Your work in SHSS courses is assigned grades, so that you may get a sense of where you stand, but these grades do not count toward your GPA, nor is any college credit granted for SHSS courses. The 2017 courses will be announced later this spring. The 2016 courses were:

      • Frederick Douglass and the Idea of Freedom
        Is freedom a universal ideal or does it have different meanings among individuals and groups? This course explores this question through the life and work of fugitive-turned-ex-slave Frederick Douglass. We examine Douglass’s autobiographical slave narratives and speeches, the relationship between race and culture, the role of experience, and Douglass’s engagement with U.S. and international politics. We also consider the implications of Douglass’s thought for freedom today.
      • The Economics of Public Policy
        This course will use economic analysis to explore a number of important public policy issues in the United States. Questions to be covered include: What is the role of the government in a market economy? What are the economic rationales for government policies? Some specific policies to be examined include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit, minimum wage laws, and the Affordable Care Act.
      • Cultures of Childhood in the US
        Childhood, as it is conceived of today, is a relatively recent invention.  In this interdisciplinary course, we will read works of literature, historiography, and cultural studies, as well as view films, listen to music, and analyze material culture (e.g., toys, clothing, foods) associated with childhood and children in the United States.  Along the way we will consider how childhood emerged as a distinct stage of life, how definitions of childhood vary (or not) across differences such as race, gender, class, and sexuality, what spaces define childhood, and what it means to “grow up.”
      • Moby-Dick: A User’s Manual
        Herman Melville planned to go to college. Then his father went bankrupt, the country went into recession, and Melville went not to Harvard, but to sea. What he learned aboard the Acushnet changed American culture. In this course, we will read Moby-Dick as a philosophical adventure story in which Melville learns to understand the world for himself, exploring questions of racial and sexual identity, work, globalization, and the nature of democracy in terms that are weirdly relevant to our time.
      • The 14th Amendment and the Meanings of Liberty and Equality, 1868-1908 (and beyond)
        Through an analysis of key U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process, this course asks how and why the meanings of liberty and equality have been defined, contested, and experienced in U.S. History. We will read landmark decisions during the first forty years after the amendment’s ratification, examine how and why some of those early decisions were overturned during the second half of the twentieth century, and consider the most recent 14th Amendment cases from the 2015-2016 term.

Other academic activities

      • Writing Workshop sessions will provide an opportunity to focus on developing skills and practices that are key to success in college-level writing. The content of the sessions will address specific demands of writing assignments required in the SHSS courses.
      • Librarians and Information Technology Specialists will help you learn how to navigate the various network and computer tools available at Williams, as well as all the other resources in the library and around campus.
      • Faculty from various fields will give guest lectures designed to introduce you to some of the subjects you can study at Williams.
      • Once a week we will convene to discuss topics related to success at Williams. Various members of the staff as well as upper class students will be invited to help introduce you to college life.
      • Resident Mentors often initiate discussions of the cultural events and workshops or brainstorming sessions on various aspects of college life.

Recreational and cultural activities

      • The group, together with faculty, staff, and Resident Mentors, attends performances and exhibitions at the various cultural venues in the Berkshires, which may include the Williams College Museum of Art, the Clark Art Institute, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA), the Williamstown Theater Festival, Shakespeare and Company, and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
      • Finally, there will be plenty of time for purely fun stuff: swimming, sports, excursions into the lovely natural environment surrounding the college, pizza parties, hanging out!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the program cost?
The program costs participants nothing. The college will pay the room and board and round-trip transportation costs to Williamstown for students who are selected. All texts and supplies will be provided, and students will receive a $250 stipend for spending money and a waiver of their summer earning expectation.

How long is the program, and when does it run?
The program is 5 weeks long, and begins in late June.

Where do students live?
The SHSS class lives in Wood House, a “row house” often picked into by upper-class students during the school year. Everyone has a single room. Living with the pre-frosh in Wood are three upper-class Resident Mentors, who serve as academic resources, social directors, and general friends and mentors for the students.

Who is invited?
As mentioned in the cover letter, we invite students who have expressed an interest in the humanities and/or social sciences and whose family background makes them underrepresented in the academic world. More specifically, our invitation list, which we get from the Admission Office, includes any first generation college student and/or anyone who self-identifies as African-American, Latino/a, or Native American. Every year Williams becomes more diverse in all kinds of exciting ways. We hope that SHSS will be one way to ensure that its participants thrive academically and socially.

This is my last summer at home before college. Why would I do this program?
It’s true; SHSS requires a great deal of commitment from all its participants. We work very hard, it’s very intense, and we expect a lot of everybody involved. But our alumni report acquiring a confidence, a set of friendships with peers, and a foundation of relationships to faculty that stand them in good stead for the rest of their college careers and beyond. SHSS students often go on to assume leadership positions on campus. All students will have one of their SHSS professors as their first-year advisor, and in our experience, these advising relationships work very well during the first year and last throughout their time at Williams, putting SHSSers at a significant advantage. SHSS continues into the first year in other ways, too, with follow-up activities and reunions.

Apply to be a Resident Mentor

Please submit your application and have recommendations sent to Molly Magavern, Special Academic Programs, Hardy House by Feb 15.

Finalists will be interviewed and Resident Mentors chosen before spring break.