Photos by Maeve Fitzhoward / The Cooper Union

Photos by Maeve Fitzhoward / The Cooper Union


Core Curriculum

Peter Cooper believed that a truly practical education should offer students a means of livelihood and a sense of intellectual curiosity as well as encouraging involvement in the cultural and political life of the city and the nation. So important did he hold the education of the citizenry to be that courses in the social sciences were to be considered preeminent. The core curriculum offered by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences continues Peter Cooper's commitment to liberal learning, social awareness and active citizenship. Through critical examination and discussion of primary materials students develop a broad understanding of the origins of modern society and the conflicts within it. The courses encourage conversation and collaboration to engender a community of inquiry and expertise, preparing students for professional careers and for active participation in society.

The core curriculum of Cooper Union is a required four-semester sequence from HSS1: Literary Forms and Expressions through HSS4:  The Modern Context.  The core curriculum requirement is satisfied by completing these four semesters in order.  HSS1 and HSS3 are offered in fall semesters; HSS2 and HSS4 are offered in spring semesters.

HSS 1: The Freshman Seminar

A literature course concentrating on poetry and drama. Selected texts from antiquity and the Renaissance are common to all sections.

HSS 2: Texts and Contexts: Old Worlds and New

A study of texts and topics from 1500 to 1800. Sections read common texts and some selections by individual instructors, with emphasis on literary expression and cultural context. Requirements include written analysis and class discussion.

HSS 3: The Making of Modern Society

A study of the key political, social and intellectual developments of modern Europe in global context.  This course is organized chronologically, beginning with the Industrial and French Revolutions. Monday 11-12 lecture in LL117 (Rose Auditorium).  All students enrolled in HSS3 must attend the Monday 11-12 lecture in addition to one of the below sections.

HSS 4: The Modern Context: Figures and Topics

A study of important figures or topics from the modern period whose influence extends into Contemporary culture. Requirements include individual research and writing projects. In choosing a section, students should consider its figure or topic for study.

Art History (HTA 101, 102)

While contributing to the required curriculum of students enrolled in the School of Art, both the Art History Core and art history electives are also available to students in the other Schools.

HTA 101, 102 Modern to Contemporary: An Introduction to Art History

This two-semester art history core course, developed as part of the the Foundation year for students in the School of Art but open to all students, is organized around a set of themes running through the history of modernity from the 18th century to the present. Within specific themes, significant works, figures, and movements in art/design will be presented chronologically. Students will be able to identify and critical evaluate significant works, figures, and movements in art/design in the modern period; be able to describe the main social and political contexts for the changes in art/design over the last two hundred years; and engage, in writing and class discussion, with theoretical perspectives on art/design production. The course will involve museum visits. Grading will be based on class participation, papers, and exams.


The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a varied and flexible elective program that provides rigorous study while responding to the changing needs of students. The complete Cooper Union course catalog with course descriptions, academic standards and other useful information is available online and maintained by the Registrar's office.

See the class schedule for available electives during the current or upcoming semester.


  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.