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Interdisciplinary Connections in the Social Sciences

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will explore the disciplines within the social sciences and learn how they are connected. We will identify the characteristics of these disciplines, and develop interdisciplinary approaches.

What Are the Social Sciences?

Many colleges and universities offer a social sciences degree. In this degree program, students take a wide variety of courses, including courses in history, economics, sociology, politics, and others. This degree program gives students room to move into a wide variety of career fields, notably research, education, politics, public service, mental health, and many other fields.

So what do we mean when we say social sciences? What are the social sciences? Social sciences is a term that refers to a wide range of academic disciplines related to human interaction. Among the common social science disciplines are history, psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and sometimes philosophy and religion. At the core of these subjects is the issue of human relationships and human interactions; that is why these are called ''social'' sciences. These are the ''sciences'' of human activity. History is probably the most popular of the social sciences, and as a result sometimes people use the term ''social science'' to refer exclusively to history. Technically, however, this is probably not the most accurate use of the term.

This 1896 mosaic by Frederick Dielman highlights core social science themes.
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Characteristics of the Social Sciences and Their Interconnectedness

Let's very quickly look at the central characteristics of the social sciences disciplines. History, of course, is the study of the past. Those who study this discipline seek to come to an understanding of what human events have happened in the past. Psychology is the study of the human mind and human behaviors. Sociology is the study of society, or of people groups and human interaction. Anthropology is in some ways similar to sociology, but often tends to focus more on biological aspects of humankind. Economics examines the role of wealth in society. Political science is the ''science'' of politics, or in other words, how power and authority are distributed among people. Philosophy deals with figuring out the purpose of life and how the universe ''works,'' among other issues related to ethics, morality, and existence. Religion relates to man's understanding of God, or the supernatural realm.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the social sciences are very much related, and more precisely, are interconnected. Think about it. Think about how politics impacts the flow of history. The American Revolution broke out over politics: the American colonists were discontent with British rule. Now think about economics and politics. They Russian Revolution in 1917 broke out mainly due to economic factors. In fact, most revolutions throughout history involve economics to one degree or another. Religion plays a powerful role in society, and is therefore related to sociology. See, all the social sciences are connected to one another. They overlap, if you will. We can't really thoroughly understand one discipline, without taking the others into consideration.

Interdisciplinary Teaching Approaches

Let's look now at ways that educators can incorporate a social sciences interdisciplinary approach, or in other words, address content as it relates to a host of disciplines. There's really not a magic formula for this; much of it is common sense. Educators simply need to be aware of the broad context, and look for opportunities to incorporate material from various disciplines.

When teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, for example, teachers should look for sociological factors to include in their historical narrative. Economics also factors in. Teachers could search for statistics showing the average household income for white vs. black families during the 1950s and 1960s. Even psychology is relevant. Teachers should take the time to explain the psychology behind the racism that was so prevalent during these years. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, teachers can help students arrive at a fuller understanding.

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