Humane Letters Department

Humane Letters is a cornerstone of the liberal arts curriculum at Tempe Preparatory Academy. Upper school students (ninth through twelfth grades) are required to take two-hour long, daily seminar courses focused on literature, history, philosophy and economics. Taking history as its organizing outline, the study of Humane Letters encourages students to find, understand and analyze the links between the fields of study.

The seminar-style courses are directed Socratically and revolve around close textual readings from the Great Books of Western Civilization. Students examine works of philosophy, drama, narrative and essay from Plato, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Shelley, Wordsworth, and many of the Victorian poets, as well as Eliot. Literary studies analyze the common human experience, moral values and cultural history. Teachers and students exchange dialogue on the nature of justice and order of the commonwealth, while gaining poetic insights into the secret soul of the individual.

The goal of the Humane Letters sequence is to enhance student’s ethical awareness and historical consciousness by providing penetrating insight into the human condition using a literary framework.

Dividing the curriculum into the Trivium — centered on the liberal arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric — students learn how to master the tools of learning, reasoning and communication. This systematic method of critical thinking combined with the integration of interdisciplinary programs allows students to approach the complexity of public concerns with broader views of the human contexts.

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Carissa Drake – Humanities Department Chair


A Socratic seminar centered on ancient literature, drama, philosophy and history with readings from Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle and Vergil. Students also study Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Julius Caesar, as well as The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

A Socratic seminar that addresses European literature, philosophy, and history in tracing the development of cultural and political institutions, as well as economic patterns from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. In addition to numerous primary source documents, texts studied include those by Shakespeare, More, Locke, Austen, Dickens, Marx, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn.

A Socratic seminar that combines a survey of American history through primary sources with representative American literature and philosophy, including works of Hamilton, Madison, Thoreau, Douglass, Twain, Crane, Cather, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Wilder, as well as the Shakespearean play Othello. The first semester concentrates on American history from the founding era through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The second semester focuses on the 20th century with particular attention paid to WWI, WWII and the Cold War.

A capstone Socratic course in which students draw upon the work of the previous three years in examining developments in literature, philosophy, history, and economics in the transition from the era of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and into the modern era. Works include those by Plutarch, Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare, Descartes, Marx, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Faulkner, as well as selections from The New Testament.