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What are the liberal arts?

The Liberal Arts College (LAC) is the product of the Great Books movement, which began in 1921 at Columbia University in New York City and continued to grow into the 1960s; however, the idea of a liberal arts education is an ancient one.

In Classical civilization, the liberal arts formed the basic curriculum appropriate for the training of free men. Adopted by medieval universities, the seven liberal arts were divided into two groups: the trivium consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric and the quadrivium comprising arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

During the Renaissance, the term liberal arts was used more broadly to designate all of those studies that impart a general education, as distinct from vocational or specialized training. The Renaissance curriculum was based on the affirmation that the study of ‘humane letters,’ the studia humanitatis (defined today as history, the humanities, science and social sciences) perfected the individual morally and intellectually and prepared him for civic life.

As the Roman African Playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) wrote: “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”

For the LAC, the serious study of the great works of the past prepares us for a richer life by illuminating what it has meant, and can mean, to be human. This pursuit of knowledge is the goal of an LAC education.

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