Humanities at IISc, a huge hit among students

Humanities at IISc, a huge hit among students

Premier institute considering request to extend the course till 8th semester

Humanities at IISc, a huge hit among students

Teaching humanities in a world renowned science institute might seem an oddity at the outset, but the humanities course offered at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has been able to blend into science in a unique way.

That the institute now has an instructor exclusively dedicated for the course, highlights its relevance. Earlier, it was dependent entirely on visiting professors. In fact, this is the first such appointment ever since the inception of IISc.

The humanities course is designed and offered by IISc's Centre of Contemporary Studies (CCS). It was introduced in 2011 as a mandatory part of IISc’s undergraduate programme and students have to study it as part of their course work until the sixth semester. What more, the students now want it to be extended until their eighth semester and the proposal is being considered.

Even though there have been other universities in the State that have tried to offer inter-disciplinary courses, it has always been viewed with scepticism. So what gives this course at IISc the edge? The very structure of it. By humanities, CCS has simply not included arts subjects such as history or economics into a science course, but the courses are designed to seamlessly blend the two streams of study.

Anshuman Swain, a fifth semester student who has taken Physics major  explained: “There are group activities like writing folk songs based on science themes and writing science fiction. Our group had composed a folk song about the Iravaddy Dolphins in Chilka lake that are hunted by people for blubber.”

The students are also taught subjects like Folk Art. Here for instance, tribal art is used to show evolution of mankind. “We were also taught some topics in psychology and ethnography which we enjoyed learning,” the student said, adding that it was a new learning experience for them which made them see the rational aspect of Arts.

First instructor

The appointment of Dr Bitasta Das as the Instructor-Humanities, Undergraduate Programme, Centre for Contemporary Studies, IISc, is a first of its kind for the institute. All the science courses have instructors but until her appointment last year, there was no instructor for the Humanities course work. She now assists in overseeing the entire programme.

“In the beginning, it is a challenge to convince them about the relevance of Arts. But eventually they enjoy it.” The course work is designed in such a way that they get hands on experience with little theory. Also, the students get to meet and interact with experts in the topics that they learn, she added.

For example, in one semester, the students learnt the art and aesthetics of theatre with none other than Prakash Belawadi and at the end of the workshop, they performed a play called “Photograph 51”, based on the theme of discovery of the structure of DNA. 

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