First-Year Guide

Welcome to the Arts & Humanities Division! On this page, you can find quick links to get you started in your A&H journey at Berkeley. The best place to start is by taking Compass Courses, which are designed specifically for first-year students like you.

Are you a transfer student? Check our our Transfer Guide.

Compass Courses guide you through various options for study in Arts and Humanities and serve as a gateway to the rich offerings at Berkeley. They are part of the freshman experience, advancing a common journey of discovery and building an intellectual cohort among students new to Berkeley's expansive possibilities.

Offered on different themes each year, all Compass Courses share a unique structure. You will have a chance to study with three professors from different Arts & Humanities departments, experience a range of approaches to the theme, and learn the methods and structures of different disciplines.
Compass Courses fulfill the Arts & Literature and Philosophy & Values breadth requirements for the College of Letters & Science.

Fall 2022

Comedy and Violence

What does it mean when represented violence makes us laugh? This course will explore this question in a range of genres and time periods: classical Greek and Roman drama, turn-of-the century European drama and fiction; and contemporary US and Asian cinema. Comedy in these texts is both a literary and cinematic mode and also an affect. How can we read ethically? How can theoretical accounts of laughter help us understand our responses? What is the role of ethics in our responses? What are the differences between the contexts of the texts and our context? What can these moments teach us about how we think about ourselves? The syllabus will include: Aristophanes, Plautus, Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Lewis Carroll, Alfred Jarry, J. M. Synge, Shin’ichirô Ueda, Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and Bong Joon-Ho. Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:

Prof. Catherine Flynn, English

Prof. Mario Telò, Ancient Greek & Roman Studies

Prof. Dan O'Neill, East Asian Languages and Cultures

Compass Course Archive

Spring 2022

Indigenous Arts in the Americas: Old and New Media 

This class investigates recent Indigenous creative practices—including poetry, film, dance, photography, and textiles—from across the Americas to think about how these forms of making and expression are not discrete but rather intimately woven together. Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:

Prof. Julia Bryan-Wilson, History of Art

Prof. Natalia Brizuela, Film & Media; Spanish and Portuguese

Prof. Beth Piatote, Native American Studies; Comparative Literature

Spring 2022

What is Asia?

This course approaches this question from three perspectives: the construction of Asia as a cultural space by Europeans from Greek antiquity to modern times; Asia’s own exploration of its identity as a cultural and political sphere; and the imagining of Asia by Americans in the age of Asia’s global economic rise. Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:

Prof. Chenxi Tang, German

Prof. Alan Tansman, East Asian Languages and Cultures

Prof. Colleen Lye, English

Spring 2021

Borders and Belonging: Reading Refugees through Law, Literature, and Film

In this course, we will read and discuss legal and political texts on refugees and their rights, and we will closely analyze literature, photography, and cinema representing refugee experience. Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:

Prof. Karl Britto, French; Comparative Literature

Prof. Debarati Sanyal, French

Prof. Samera Esmeir, Rhetoric

Fall 2020

World Cities: Shanghai - St. Petersburg - Berlin

This course explores three world cities, located across the breadth of Asia and Europe, retracing the stories, myths, symbols and fantasies which Shanghai, St. Petersburg and Berlin have inspired. Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:

Prof. Lilla Balint, German

Prof. Weihong Bao, Film & Media; East Asian Languages & Cultures

Prof. Harsha Ram, Slavic Languages & Literatures; Comparative Literature

Fall 2019

Histories of the Self: Inventing Identity 

This course explores many forms of self-representation as they’ve changed over time, and ask how different forms of humanistic expression – language, image, and media – have shaped what we’ve come to think of as identity.  Course catalog link.

Instructors and Bios:  

Prof. Kathleen Donegan, English                                              

Prof. Michael Mascuch, Rhetoric

Prof. Damon Young, Film & Media; French         

Danielle Roseman, Class of 2023 Psychology major, Disability Studies minor

Danielle Roseman, class of 2023, Psychology major, Disability Studies minor