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 May 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

2024 Courses

As a SHSS student in 2024, 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 2024 courses are as follows:

Economics of Public Policy
Sara LaLumia – Professor of Economics
This course will use tools of economic analysis to explore issues related to economic policy-making in the United States. Governments participate in markets in a variety of ways, including by collecting taxes, providing subsidies, and regulating prices. When governments participate in markets, what are the effects on prices, quantities, and the well-being of consumers and producers?  In order to answer these questions, we will develop an understanding of economic models and concepts: the supply and demand model, equilibrium, externalities, and public goods. We will think critically about how economic data can be interpreted and used to inform policy recommendations.

“Illness, Health, and Beauty” in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literatures
Man He- Associate Professor of Chinese
I am sick”; “Are you? How so?” While seeming straightforward, this set of dialogue exchange carries rhetorical weight, requires cultural sensitivities, and fleshes out the politics of identity.

Grounded in examination of literature and film from Chinese-speaking societies in the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries, this course genuinely inquires: what are the technology of writing used to make invisible viruses and cells into literary tropes? How to map out the spectrum of health? And, a step further, how can we prescribe “healthy beauty” in a modern and contemporary mediasphere? Specifically, we study how Chinese literatures write and visualize “disease”—a universal human experience that is nevertheless heavily bounded by culture and history. We dissect the relationship between “illness” on the one hand, and the politics of body, gender, and class on the other. We examine the representation and perception of infectious (sexual) diseases and mental illnesses in intellectual and popular writings, art-house and blockbuster films, political manifestos, and commercial advertisements. In this course, actual diseases, public health policies, and popular theorizations of beauty emerge as subjects, unfolding their metamorphoses not under a microscope but before our own “enlightened” eyes.

All reading and viewing materials are in English translation. Students will engage in intellectual activities commonly found in Williams seminar courses, such as annotating on Perusall,close-reading exercises, creating video essays, delivering poster presentations, etc.

Monsters: Freaks, Vampires & Aliens in High & Popculture
Christophe A. Koné- Associate Professor of German
What exactly is a monster? What distinguishes a freak from a monster? Are vampires and aliens monsters? Does the word “monster” serve as an umbrella term for all that which deviates from natural, physical, moral, and social norms? Or do monsters, freaks, vampires, and aliens possess each their own specificity and constitute their own subcategory? These are some of the questions this course seeks to address and examine. What do monsters reveal about the societies and cultures that create them? For centuries, figures such as freaks, vampires, and aliens have populated high and low culture. Examining several monstrous figures in literature, cinema, graphic novels, photography, and fashion, this interdisciplinary course explores monsters’ relationship with gender and sexuality, society, psychology, race, transnationalism, religion, and the human condition. From kindhearted freaks to dapper psychopaths, from gaunt models to racialized aliens, from queer vampires to the monstrous-feminine, we will identify how monsters constantly figure, disfigure, and reconfigure conventional ways of viewing our own humanness.  Study at your own peril!

Introduction to Black & White Analog Photography
Daniel Goudrouffle – Art Department
This course is an introduction to the black & white silver photographic process. Students will learn the mechanics of the analog 35mm camera, the process of developing films into negatives, and the technique of printing in the darkroom. By studying  Andrew Levitas’s movie Minamata (2020), based on the book of the same name by Aileen Mioko Smith and photographer Eugene Smith, they will develop their personal vision and create a series of images. By the end of the program each student will exhibit a triptych along with an artist statement.

World Music as Therapy
Tendai Muparutsa – Lecturer in Music
An African music experience. The course offers a hands-on musical journey where participants are encouraged to play African instruments. The marimbas from Zimbabwe are the main instruments and kpanlogo drums from Ghana. The teaching and learning process includes watching video clips, reading, and class demonstrations of such concepts. At the end of the course, the class will put together a small performance.

“Language Out of Chaos: How to Write”
Ezra Feldman – Lecturer
What is going on when we write? And how, when we write (or read), do we make a world or a picture of a world? The fundamental goal of this course is to develop in each student two long-lasting habits: first, the habit of examining writing’s many forms—the shapes of its sentences, paragraphs, and arguments—and, second, the habit of choosing appropriate forms (and words) for engaging with others.  Our case studies will come from OuLiPo-style constrained writing, creation myths, experimental theatre, the literary essay, philosophy, and handbooks on writing. Our methods will be practical: We will write in imitation of the authors we study; we will do the exercises that they recommend; we will develop individual exercises that push our writing match the shapes of the worlds we want others to see; we practice anticipatory reading and writing (marking the promises that writing makes from sentence to sentence); finally we will compose our own accounts what happens when we write. Topics will include: storytelling, poetry, and drama; multilingualismand translation; the philosophy of language; and the metaphors of creator-as-speaker and writer-as-creator.

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 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 the purely fun stuff: swimming, sports, excursions into the lovely natural environment surrounding the college, pizza parties, and hanging out!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the program cost?
The program does not cost anything to 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.

How long is the program and when does it run?
The program is 5 weeks long and runs from June 28 – August 2, 2024.

Where do students live?
The SHSS class lives in  Perry 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 Perry House are four upper-class Resident Mentors who serve as academic resources, social directors, and general friends and mentors for the students.

Who is invited?
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 with 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 by February 29, 2024.

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