Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program

The Summer Humanities & 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. SHSS combines classes taught by Williams professors with an introduction to the many resources available to Williams students. Throughout the program, students engage with faculty, academic staff, and peer advisors to introduce students to a wide array of intellectual, research, and writing opportunities. SHSS students will be matched with program faculty for first-year academic advising, so there is ample time to discuss course selection and future academic opportunities. Learn more about SHSS from students who have gone through the program.

The program has two main goals. First, it provides 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

To apply for the SHSS program, simply complete this Interest Form. Regular decision admits by June 3. Because we are committed to working closely with individual students as well as 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. Please forward any questions about SHSS to Robert Blay at [email protected]


SHSS video by Eddy Varela, Class of 2020

2021 Courses

As a SHSS student in 2021, you will take four courses.   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 2021 courses are:

Moby-Dick: A User’s Manual
Herman Melville expected to go to college.  Then his father went bankrupt, the country plunged 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 comes to understand himself by exploring racial and sexual identity, work, globalization, capitalism, and natural history in terms that often feel weirdly contemporary. We’ll look at current retellings of Melville’s story (as film and graphic novel), and may hunt down traces of Melville’s history in the Berkshires (he wrote the novel while living in Pittsfield).  Above all, we will treat Moby-Dick as a tool that can provoke us to new relations with language, the world, and our own voices.

The Economics of Public Policy
This course will use tools of microeconomic anlysis to explore issues related to economic policy-making in the United States.  Under what circumstances should government intervene in a market economy? When there is justification for government intervention, how should that intervention be designed? What are the effects, both intended and unintended, of particular government policies?  In order to answer these questions, we will develop an understanding of economic models and concepts: the supply and demand model, equilibrium, efficiency equity, and market failures. We will think critically about how economic data can be interpreted and used to inform policy recommendations.

American Slavery: American Freedom
This mini course will examine early North American slavery in the Chesapeake region, the Deep South, and yes, wait for it- New York City and New England.  We’ll look at primary sources both written and artistic from North America, Europe, and Africa.  At the same time, we’ll consider what “freedom” meant to European settlers, enslaved Africans, and thinkers of the time.

The Nation and Its Discontents
What and whom do these terms include and exclude? What defines us as a society, culture, nation? How we view this country depends on who we are, as individuals and as members of various groups, influenced by our race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, education, place, and religion, among others. Being “American” has always been about something more than political citizenship. This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of American society, culture, history, and nationhood.  We will ask critical questions of a wide variety of materials, and we will analyze notions of U.S. exceptionalism, empire, power, citizenship, labor, borders, racial and capitalist ideas, aesthetic form, and the role of the U.S. and its products in the world.

World Music in Action
The core of this course is exploring the background, performance and reception of world music in the United States. In seminar/ lecture approach, we will read articles, book chapters, watch and listen to music excepts on YouTube and other media. The regions of interest include West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa and their impact in the United States colleges and universities world music experiences. We will make references to other parts of the world and discuss stylistic, performance, instrumental and dance differences. To cap this course, we will have a hands-on exploration on Zimbabwean marimba, drums and dance and students will learn playing and arranging music for these instruments.

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 does not cost anything for participants. The college will pay for room and board and round-trip transportation to Williamstown for students who are selected. All texts and supplies will be provided and students will receive a $250 stipend for spending money as well as a waiver of their summer earning expectation.

How long is the program and when does it run?
The program is 5 weeks long and runs from June 26 – July 31.

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 House 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, Latina/o, 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?
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 everyone involved. However, SHSS alumni report acquiring more 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 often these advising relationships last throughout a student’s time at Williams. 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 Robert Blay by March 22

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