The Core Humanities program originated in the 1980s as an interdisciplinary, two-course Western Traditions sequence focusing on the ideas, values, and cultures of western societies from ancient times to the present (WT 201 and 202). When a new core curriculum was implemented in 1989, university administrators added a third course focusing on American history and culture (WT 203) as a means for meeting the state-mandated U.S. and Nevada Constitution requirements. Taught by professors and graduate teaching assistants from five different departments (English, History, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Philosophy, and Political Science), the courses exposed students to the broad range of thought and approaches that exist in the humanities and social sciences while helping them develop critical thinking and communication skills. In 1998 the Western Traditions program received national recognition when the National Endowment for the Humanities provided a $2 million grant to assist with faculty development and other program enhancements. In response to criticisms that the focus on “western” ideas was too narrow and to better reflect the more diverse perspectives that instructors were beginning to incorporate in their courses, Western Traditions was renamed Core Humanities in 2003. An external review team that evaluated UNR’s core curriculum in 2010 listed the required CH courses among the strongest parts of the core and noted that they were a positive experience for students. In 2015, Nevada Humanities recognized the program's achievements with an Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities award, praising its role in providing UNR students with "an intellectual framework and context for thriving in a changing world."
The Core Humanities sequence of courses is central to the core curriculum, emphasizing knowledge and skills that students carry with them through the rest of their studies at UNR. In keeping with this function, CH courses are rigorous and challenging. Collectively they cover thousands of years of human history and introduce students to ideas, practices, and belief systems that may be very different from their own understanding of the world. The courses require students to engage with difficult primary source texts and include substantial writing requirements (typically 15 pages or more). There is also a discussion component that provides opportunities for practicing oral expression skills.
The focus on critical thinking and effective communication builds the foundation that students need to succeed in more advanced classes and in their careers beyond UNR. Nevada employers consistently rank the skills taught in CH (written and oral expression, critical thinking, problem solving, and working cooperatively with others) as important for UNR graduates to acquire. A report published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013 noted that, nationwide, employers in every industry highly value the characteristics instilled by broad training in the humanities: creativity, adaptability, empathy, clear expression of ideas, and complex problem-solving. The program thus helps to prepare students for life in the twenty-first century, instilling traits that are essential to surviving in the modern world.