A brief history of the liberal arts

Once known as the ‘liberal pursuits’, the concept of the liberal arts originated in the time of the Roman Empire, Europe and was considered an essential education. The system initially focused on three subjects – grammar, logic and rhetoric (known as the Trivium). Later on, in mediaeval times it evolved and a further four subjects were added – music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy (known as the Quadrivium).

The main idea behind the concept was to nurture students’ abilities in becoming highly articulate, ethical, knowledgeable in numerous fields and morally excellent – in fact it was considered the hallmark of a person who was educated.

Liberal arts today

Today still sees a liberal arts education system being used across the USA, where it is probably most-well known, not in the same way as in classical times, but with many of the core ideas being adopted and moulded to cater for the way the world works in the present day. Liberal arts is also experiencing a revival in Europe and in other parts of the world, because it trains people to think, question and communicate; all abilities which are essential for success in the dynamic environment we live and work in today.

The meaning of ‘liberal’ and ‘arts’

The word ‘liberal’ draws upon many meanings in the context of education, such as to be ‘broad-minded’, to enjoy more ‘freedom’ in academic interests, to be someone who isn’t strictly focused on one method of learning and to be free of the widely held and followed conventions. The term ‘arts’ isn’t about ‘art’ in its strictest sense, rather the particular methods relating to the various branches of learning – the art of studying the academic areas in this ‘liberal’ way.

In terms of a liberal arts education – this seeks to develop intellectual capabilities in addition to learning about how ‘one’s’ main educational subject area, or focus, is actually related to many other areas and disciplines and what this relationship means. This is carried out using a mode of study which draws upon many techniques, such as the conscious use of creative skills and imagination, skills acquired through experience, study, observations and activities which specifically require the combination of knowledge and judgement.

Richmond University and the liberal arts way

Depending on which part of the world you’re in, a liberal arts university could be a variety of things, some universities offer degrees in liberal arts, some have a liberal arts approach – two very different things. When studying at Richmond University, you will experience the latter. You will study academic subjects like most other universities, however, we also place a strong focus on developing graduates in a wealth of additional ways – individuals who are well-rounded and able to build connections across different academic areas. Unlike the traditional UK university, a liberal arts university doesn’t just focus a student’s learning on one main subject, but a whole variety of subjects.

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