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…use of “major” was coined by William Rainey Harper…

Lack of concentration
It was with mixed feelings that I read of the change from “concentrator” to the more traditional “major” (“College Report,” June/04). Since I was educated in the Hutchins College, I did not use either term until I obtained my PhB and entered the divisions to complete pre-med requirements. Because we were all enrolled in the same curriculum, we considered ourselves simply “in the College,” a nontraditional, avant-garde concept with its attendant feeling of superiority. Several years later, when Harvard announced its new Core Curriculum, our reaction was somewhere between “no big deal” and “ho hum.”

The terms “concentration” or “concentrator” were unfamiliar, strange, and awkward, but at least they had the traditional mix of being countertraditional with the requisite amount of exclusivity and snobbishness. Just as my College finally succumbed to the combined resistance of the higher-education establishment, so too it seems that the “concentration” has now become the more traditional and comfortable “major.” It’s easier, but there is a certain feeling of loss.

Of course, there were other alternatives. In the same way that the architecture of the original campus was called “Oxford Gothic,” the concentrator could have become the Oxford “reader,” as in, “I am reading history.” Alternatively, in Germany, one “studies” history.

The bottom line is that the College of my youth was the most exciting intellectual experience of my life and has allowed me to carry on conversations with people who “majored” in architecture or anthropology, theology or zoology. It has served as the foundation and inexhaustible reservoir of my intellectual curiosity and desire for learning. It is my hope that the students now enrolled in the College, whatever their “concentrations” or “majors,” will have this same experience.

Richard S. Homer, PhB’47, SB’49, MD’53
Northridge, California

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