Insistent Change: Columbia’s Core Curriculum at 100

1920s > Early Textbooks and Readings

Early Textbooks & Readings

In the spring of 1919, the new CC Committee outlined a 150-page, two-volume syllabus covering six broad areas:  the physical world from which humanity sustains itself; a comparative ethnography of major human groups; a psychological analysis of human nature and the autonomous self; the political, economic and intellectual features of life in the West; the history of major nation-states and international relations; and the problems these states face in the early 20th Century.

This sprawling syllabus, in turn, directed students to a wide range of secondary sources. When possible, existing works were assigned for individual subject areas, for example, Columbia historian Carlton Hayes's Political and Social History of Modern Europe. Where necessary, the CC Committee asked young instructors to prepare special CC textbooks. Irwin Edman, then a philosophy graduate student, prepared the first of these works – Human Traits and Social Significance – over the summer of 1919. The third and last single-author CC textbook – John Herman Randall's Making of the Modern Mind – proved influential beyond Columbia and remained an assigned CC textbook into the 1940s.

An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization

This frail bluebook is part I of the first CC syllabus published in 1919. On page one (excerpted below), the authors lay out the pressing problems to be studied and discussed, most of them still highly relevant today:

How to produce many goods cheaply and at the same time humanely; how to determine the just division of industrial earnings; how to achieve a legal and political order which will be responsive to a changing social opinion and sufficiently stable to permit the completion of large co-operative enterprises; how to eliminate waste, human and material; how to attain the advantages of group solidarity, yet escape racial, cultural and class prejudices and conflicts; how to preserve national unity and strength, yet enjoy the benefits of international co-operation; how to determine and devise an educational system that will be advantageous both from considerations of livelihood and culture, and productive of the fullest individual liberty and freedom consistent with concerted action.


Introduction to Contemporary Civilization: A Syllabus, Part I (First Edition). cover

An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization, 1919 (First edition)

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Letter from Frederick Paul Keppel to John Coss, 1919

This April 17, 1919 letter from Keppel to Coss discusses the new Contemporary Civilization syllabus. It came with an attached copy of a letter (on display below) from Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who wrote in praise of the new syllabus. As a young lawyer, Brandeis fought for social justice and the public interest. Brandeis' endorsement of CC is significant as it relates directly to the connections between CC and progressive social action.

Chronological Tables, 12th Century to the Present Day

Chronological Tables, 12th Century to the Present Day, 1930. A comprehensive table included in the 1930-1931 Contemporary Civilization syllabus. Zoom in on the image to view some of the details!

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Outline Readings in Important Books: Prepared for the General Honors Course in Columbia University, 1924

This text was used in the General Honors course which was the inspiration for the Literature Humanities course developed in the 1930s. By clicking on the link above you can view the entire volume via HathiTrust.

Outline of Readings in Important Books: Prepared for the General Honors Course in Columbia University. title page

Outline Readings in Important Books: Prepared for the General Honors Course in Columbia University, 1924

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