The Four General Education Lenses

Each time we approach a question or project, we are informed by certain perspectives, or “lenses.” At
any given time, we are looking through multiple lenses, but often, one may be more dominant than the
others. Throughout your academic journey, these lenses coincide with disciplines or fields of study. Here
at SNHU, we’ve prioritized four of these lenses: the Humanities, History, the Sciences, and the Social
Sciences. Professionals in these fields all ask questions in order to gain information, but they may ask
them in different ways that will help them examine different aspects of a topic. We can think of these as
four different telescopes, and each lens has different characteristics. Thus, depending on the lens we are
looking through, the cultural artifacts we encounter—the constructed items that convey the
benchmarks of a particular culture or social group—will tell a different story.
The Humanities
At the core of the humanities is human creativity, and they explore the things that humanity creates and
how they offer insight into the way people experienced their present, interacted with their culture, and
comprehended abstract concepts and big questions about humanity’s place in the universe. The
humanities broaden perspectives and promote an understanding of multiple experiences, cultures, and
values through various mediums of creative human expression—such as literature, fine art, dance,
photography, philosophy and religion, film and television, music, even the internet and social media—
many of which are taught as separate academic disciplines. Within the humanities, both the artist’s (or
creator’s) intent and audience reception of a creative artifact are considered to help understand cultural
values and why they matter. They celebrate cultural diversity while also highlighting cultural similarity.
View these brief videos for more on the lens of the humanities: What Are the Humanities and Why Are
They Important? (1:53); IDS-100: Humanities (3:22).
Many of us are familiar with history as being a list of dates, events, and people to memorize, but history
is so much more than simply dates and memorizing facts. Your primary exposure to history could have
been in grade school required classes or in documentaries about subjects you find interesting. There is
so much more to history, however. History tells the stories of our past to help us better understand how
we got to the present. In addition to dates, events, and people, history encompasses first-hand accounts
of experiences that include artifacts from an era (tools, clothes, toys, etc.), letters or diaries from people
who lived during a certain time, documents from a time period, photographs, and, when possible,
interviews with people who lived through the events that historians study. Together, these historical
remnants help write a story of a particular time, which is then folded into the stories of history we are
living and making today. View these brief videos for more on the lens of history: Thinking Like a
Historian (8:47); What Is History For? (4:13); What is Historical Thinking (7:41).
The Natural and Applied Sciences
The natural and applied sciences study the physical world to help us better understand ourselves and
our place in nature, and nature’s role in shaping us. The natural sciences include fields such as biology,
chemistry, and physics, while the applied sciences include STEM-related fields such as mathematics and
technology. Together these fields explore the questions and curiosities humans have been pondering for
ages, and scientists often develop questions and use a scientific process—the scientific method—to
describe, predict, and observe the natural world. This method of developing and researching hypotheses
can also be applied to the other lenses as a way to organize the questions one might ask to gain a
deeper understanding of our world and experiences. View these brief videos for more on the natural
and applied sciences: The Scientific Method (4:05); IDS-100: What Is Science? (2:01); IDS-100: Neil
deGrasse Tyson Describes Scientific Thinking (2:52).
The Social Sciences
As people are social beings, social science is the study of society and the relationships between people.
Subjects included in this lens are psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and
geography. This study of human behavior and interaction can sometimes overlap with the humanities
lens, which also studies different cultures. Studying society, culture, and human relationships will lead us
to an understanding of how people live and how to improve our lives. Social scientists use a variety of
methods to arrive at conclusions within this lens, such as interviews, participant-observation, and
primary and secondary sources. The social sciences can also intersect with the other lenses. For
instance, like for the history lens, social scientists may look at the past to gain an understanding of the
social relationships that took place. How do we interact? How do we work together? Asking questions
similar to these has given us the opportunity to evaluate causes and effects related to people in our
society. Consider how the social science lens helps us interact with the world around us and uses
cultural artifacts to make changes in our lives to promote better living or promote interactions we
normally would not have with others. View these brief videos for more on social science: An Animated
Introduction to Social Science (4:35); What Is Social Science? Part 1 (2:50); What Is Social Science? Part 2

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