Humanities & Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur

Introduction to Logic being taught by a faculty member from the Mathematics Department, History of Science and Engineering taught as a course in Linguistics by a team of faculty members from the Humanities, Physics and Electrical Engineering Departments – this sums up the philosophy of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at IIT Kanpur.

No eyebrow is raised when faculty members from the HSS are seen to be participating enthusiastically in the interdisciplinary postgraduate programme in Design (MDes) or faculty members in Fine Arts or Economics or Psychology are seen to attract as much project work as in some engineering departments. Humanities and Social Sciences is not a peripheral department in this technological institute, thanks to the vision of the founding director of IIT Kanpur Professor P K Kelkar.

Professor P. K. Kelkar, the founding Director of IIT Kanpur was instrumental in setting up a full-fledged Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), along with other departments of Science and Engineering in 1960. He realized that it would help the students to sharpen their creative talents, to become better leaders and decision makers. This outlook motivated the Institute to allocate more than fifteen percent of the total course time to HSS courses in its five-year undergraduate B. Tech. programmes. The students often consider HSS courses as most enjoyable which also opens new avenues for their thought process.

The Department started with English, Economics, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology as the constituent disciplines. The first set of permanent faculty members in HSS were appointed in early 1962, one each in Sociology, Psychology and English. The Department had complete freedom to design and teach courses, and was also given liberal funds to develop a library.

The Department was perceived to be the intellectual soul of the Institute. It was believed that it would broaden the student's perspective and contribute to the moulding of a rounded personality with an unprejudiced mind and critical thinking skills. It was accepted that HSS courses should be taught as these would normally be taught in a traditional university. At the same time, faculty members emphasized the need for a vibrant Ph.D. programme, going beyond the considerations of undergraduate teaching.

Given the needs of the five independent disciplines, it was decided that there would be 30 members in the Department: six in each discipline, namely, Economics, English, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. After a few years, Fine Arts was added to the original five disciplines. Sanskrit was introduced for a brief period when it was taught by a visiting faculty.

The Department started a Ph.D. programme in Philosophy as early as 1965. By the late 1970s, the faculty strength rose to 32 and gradually Ph.D. programme was initiated in all the other disciplines. The last discipline to join the Ph.D. programme was Fine Arts. Currently (in 2021), there are 115 Ph.D. students in the Department. The Department also started an M.Phil. programme in 1980 which was discontinued after one year.

A major development in the academic history of the Department was the starting of a Five-Year Integrated M.Sc. Programme in Economics in 2005. In 2017, the Economics discipline was converted into a separate Department of Economic Sciences.

The growth of the Department was not without hurdles. The faculty strength dwindled from 32 in the late 1970s to 22 in the mid-1990s. This trend changed around the turn of the century, and the faculty on roll has since then registered a steady increase. In 2021, there are 29 faculty members in the Department.