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What is Humanities?

March 31, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Some people may not be able to define humanities when asked; however, they know it’s what they want to take in college. The humanities help us understand the human experience as individuals and societies through different disciplines.

Humanities cover such a broad range of topics stemming from archeology to performing arts. A person will never learn all there is to know about humanities as it covers all societies and cultures going back to the beginning of time, which is why there are so many different disciplines.

There are more benefits in humanities than just a degree. They teach empathy, help us understand others through their histories, languages, and cultures, they reveal how people have tried to make sense of the world in a spiritual, moral, and intellectual way, and so much more.

When it comes to employment, humanities play a role as well. Over 60% of CEOs have at least a bachelor’s degree in humanities. Two-thirds of humanities majors get jobs in the private sector. While the humanities are so important, they only receive 0.05% of United States research money.

Academic Disciplines that are Part of the Humanities

Humanities programs in colleges are broken down into several different disciplines, and some of them are broken down even more into subdisciplines. You can major in these disciplines, minor in them, or take courses in them just for interest towards a different degree. Some of them overlap while others stand independently. All are worth studying for many reasons.

Anthropology

Anthropology is a holistic science that studies human cultures and societies. It is a science of human existence. The discipline is a broad one, and it has different aspects to it: social sciences, humanities, and human biology.

Starting in the twentieth century, anthropology has been divided into three broad domains:

  • Natural science is a branch of knowledge that deals with the study of the physical world
  • The humanities study local traditions through history, religion, literature, music, arts, and more.
  • The social sciences are a scientific study of human society and social relationships.

Anthropologists generally specialize in only one of the sub-fields; however, they always keep in mind the historical, biological, linguistic, and cultural aspects of any problem they come across.

Archeology

Archeology is the study of human activity from the past through the recovery and analysis of bones and artifacts. Archeology is considered both social science and part of the humanities. An archeologist has several goals, including understanding cultural history, reconstructing how people lived in the past, and documenting and explaining how human societies changed through time. In some areas, archeology can be thought of as a branch of anthropology.

Classics

The classics generally refers to the studies of the cultures of classical antiquity, which refers to the period between 8 B.C. and 6 B.C., and covers the Ancient Greek and Latin languages, as well as the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Classics are considered the cornerstone of humanities, the popularity of classical studies has dropped off in the past several decades, though some of the ideas on many of the disciplines remain strong.

History

Just like it sounds, history is the study of our past. More specifically, it deals with the study, interpretation, and follow-up of humans, societies, and institutions over time. Everyone has a history; however, not everyone’s history will become what is taught in history books.

World War I, the Holocaust, Black History Month, and. Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination are all examples of history. These are all important moments that had a major impact on a nation or globally.

Linguistics and Languages

Linguistics is the study of language, which is considered a social science, natural science, or cognitive science and is still central to the humanities. One area for linguists to study is how humans went from no verbal communication to speaking over 7,000 languages with thousands of more dialects on top of that.

Languages is learning foreign languages. Between 25 to 40% of people can only speak one language, referred to as a polyglot, so learning multiple languages is important. Many countries around the world have more than one official language, and while the English language may be the most widely used, Chinese is the number one spoken language.

Law and Politics

Law is a rule that is enforceable through institutions, and the study of law crosses between social science and humanities. Many past cases make the way for current and future cases, some making history, such as Roe v. Wade. Many people think of enforcement when thinking of law, but there are other aspects of law, too, such as real estate law, divorce law, sports law, etc.

Law and politics go together as the politicians are the ones who make the laws. The study of politics focuses on different types of constitutions, political actors, legislature, and associated fields.

Literature

Literature is a broad term without a true definition when it comes to studies. One thing that everyone can agree on is that it is the study of writing and words. Where the disagreement comes into play is whether it covers fiction and non-fiction, poetry, or prose, broken into a novel, short story, or drama.

All of the above are covered in literature and are often categorized based on the historical period, genres, aesthetics, or others. 

Philosophy

Philosophy, known as the love of wisdom, is the study of problems about knowledge, existence, truth, justice, justification, right and wrong, beauty, validity, mind, and language.

Since the early twentieth century, many schools have moved away from the humanities form of philosophy and more towards the formal sciences, or analytical philosophy.

Religion

Every society and tribe in history has had some form of region, and some religions are similar while others are completely different. Some are founder religions, and others are non-founder religions. There are many more, but these are a few of the topics that someone studying religion might look into. 

Within each religion, there are many things to focus on, like the number of times food or beverage is mentioned in the King James Bible or how different religions intertwine and when they separate.

Performing Arts

Performing arts is the study of art where the artist uses their body to create their work. There are three areas of performing arts:

  • Music – There are various paths in music that a student can take, including ethnomusicology,  historical musicology, music literature, and music theory.
  • Theatre – Acting out stories in front of a live audience using combinations of speech, gesture, dance, music, and sound.
  • Dance – Usually referred to as human movement used as a form of human expression or presented in a social, spiritual, or performance setting. There are various forms of dance and definitions that are dependent on social, cultural, aesthetic, artistic, and moral constraints.

Visual Arts

Much of what we see in art today can be traced back as far back as some of the great civilizations, such as Ancient Greece, Rome, China, India, Japan, Greater Nepal, and Mesopotamia. Each of the ages has distinct characteristics within the arts. 

Not only are there different styles of visual arts, but there are also different mediums, such as oil paints, acrylic paints, charcoal, pastels, and color pencils.

Some visual arts students choose to study an era while others choose to study the works of one particular artist. There are many opportunities when it comes to studying visual arts.

With so many choices to choose from, what are the most popular humanities majors? The most popular major is English, with 40% of those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Humanities.

Following English, history, religious studies, philosophy, and art history are the most popular humanities majors.

Benefits of Receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities

There are several benefits of receiving a bachelor’s degree in humanities that have nothing to do with your major. Some may overlook many of the everyday experiences that can be taught from humanities. 

  1. Marketable Skills

    Some of these skills include communication (oral and written), creativity and innovation, problem-solving, and critical and analytical thinking. Humanities majors are often doing a lot of analyzing and writing. 75% of employers cite communication, problem-solving and critical thinking as the most important skills for new hires to possess. Innovation and creativity are just as important as employees need the ability to come up with creative solutions, create new approaches, and think up the latest and greatest advancements and ideas.
  1. Flexibility

    By nature, the humanities have a broad spectrum of information. Students are bright-eyed and anxious to learn. They are more flexible when it comes to having to switch gears as they are not highly specialized.

    Skills such as writing, communication, and problem-solving are used in many careers and industries, and humanities is perfect if you find yourself wanting to do something completely different down the road, know you plan on changing careers after a few years, or you find yourself out of a job and you need to take what you can get.

    Those who have degrees in humanities have an easier time continuing their educational path to getting a master’s or doctorate or having it as a starter degree before going to law school or another institution.
  1. Life Skills

    Not all of the skills learned from a humanities degree have to do with employment. Many are valuable skills that can make students better people, in turn, making them better citizens in the community.

    While studying humanities, students learn about other cultures and places, and they explore issues, cultural diversity, foreign policy, and much more. By opening the world up to students, they become more aware of what is going on and are more apt to continue to pay attention to the world around them.

    Having a broad base of knowledge in areas that deal with people, places, and problems in society can make graduates more empathetic and understanding when encountering different situations. Thus, allowing students to gain a deep understanding of different views of the world, which also contributes to skills mentioned earlier like creativity, problem-solving, and innovation.
  1. Personal and Job Satisfaction

    Yes, many graduates of humanities have the opportunity to have lucrative careers, as noted that 60% of CEOs have humanities degrees, but it turns out that many graduates chose their career out of passion instead of money.

    People passionate about what they do for a living are proven to be much more productive, more successful, and more satisfied than those just there for a paycheck.

    Humanities is one of those majors where you get to spend four years learning about exciting things, and then after you graduate, you have a lifetime to learn more exciting things. As mentioned earlier, you will never learn all there is to know about humanities. The information is too vast, and it’s being added to each day.
  1. Ticket to High Paying Jobs in the Tech World

    This one sounds a little funny, but getting a humanities degree is one way to get further ahead in the tech industry. But it goes back to what we were saying earlier about innovation and creativity. The tech industry is always looking for people who can offer those skills. Some of the best technical minds in the world are missing those skills. So, the industry relies on people from other areas, such as humanities, to fill in the gaps for them.

What You Can Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities

There is a range of career paths that you can take with a humanities degree, much longer than we can list here, but here is a list of some of the most popular choices when it comes to jobs.

  1. Advertising Manager

    There are a couple of focuses you could have for an advertising manager, artistic skills are always good, but so are creativity, innovation, and forward-thinking, like we’ve already spoken.
  1. Advertising Sales Agent

    An advertising sales agent is similar to an advertising manager, and perhaps the managers will start as sales agents. There is one thing that all agents must have and is excellent communication skills. If they don’t have excellent communication skills, they aren’t going to be able to sell any advertising.
  1. Artist

    There are several different artist types. If you studied performing arts, perhaps you could go on to become a professional performing artist. Many who take visual arts are artists themselves, and perhaps the extra education and history will allow them to further their career as an artist.
  1. Counselor

    Counselors require excellent communication and problem-solving skills and empathy so that they can help their clients. Having some worldly knowledge could also come in handy for counselors. Some of their clients may need to talk about such events.
  1. Editor

    When you’re majoring in humanities, one thing you’re doing a lot of is writing. Not only have you done a lot of writing, but you have also done your editing. And maybe you’ve even edited some of your fellow students’ work along the way. If you find out that you enjoy it and are good at it, you can make a career of it.
  1. Education Administrator

    Not everyone who works in education needs to be a teacher. There are many other career paths that you could take, such as an administrator or financial aid manager. Each department also has its little team, so rather than use your skills on a broad level, you might be able to niche down to the field of your interest. 
  1. Event Organizer

    An event organizer is a great career option for those with keen visual arts skills, as they may be at an advantage to see the final product during the conception phase. Many of the other skills we’ve mentioned previously are needed for an event organizer, such as great communication, problem-solving, and innovation.
  1. FBI Agent

    Working for the FBI might sound like something out of a crime drama and does not sound like an actual job. However, your knowledge of foreign cultures and languages can be an asset in this career. The bachelor’s degree in humanities will just be a stepping stone to get you into the FBI, but it’s a great start.
  1. Foreign Correspondent

    If your interests are in writing, photography, journalism, and traveling, you might think about becoming a foreign correspondent. Knowing about languages, different cultures, and will also be great assets in a job such as this. 
  1. Genealogist

    Do you like to learn about people and their origin stories? Interest in genealogy is on the rise with companies like Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me. It’s an excellent opportunity to combine your passion and skills for history, archeology, and anthropology into one. It also uses those research and problem-solving skills you’ve used so much while working towards your degree.
  1. Historian

    Historians are quite often researchers and are responsible for interpreting historical documents and events. History is a broad field, so while you’re a student, try sampling courses such as U.S. History, Western Civilization, and World History, to name a few, to think about what kinds of history you may be most interested in.
  1. Human Resources Specialist

    Human resources specialists require several different skill sets. They interview potential new hires, welcome them aboard, have excellent problem-solving and communication skills, and understand benefits packages. They are ready to answer any questions, be there in almost a counselor capacity for employees, be a disciplinarian, and so much more.
  1. Librarian

    Being a librarian is a fantastic job for someone who graduated with a humanities degree, no matter which field you majored in. All of the knowledge from history to visual arts is right there at your fingertips. You will now be able to help future generations of those majoring in humanities. Currently, a bachelor’s degree is a stepping stone to becoming a librarian, as you need a master’s degree, which you can also get in humanities.
  1. Linguist

    A linguist is a language expert, and they focus on how they are connected to human culture, how languages work, and how they change over time. There are several paths you can take as a linguist, both in the public and private sector. Some of these include speech therapists, lexicographers, and talent agents.
  1. Lobbyist

    Not all lobbyists are professional by nature, but those who are are generally trying to influence regulation, legislation, or other government actions, policies, or decisions on behalf of a group or individual who has hired them. Individuals and non-profits can also lobby, and often do so on a volunteer basis or without pay.
  1. Museum Worker/Curator

    Surround yourself with your passion for art or anthropology by working for a museum. Many museums hire recent graduates as tour guides, help desk workers, and knowledgeable historians. With some experience and further education, you can become a museum curator, managing the collections and activities.
  1. Public Relations Manager

    To make someone’s public image look good, you need to understand human nature, as well as strong reading, writing, communications, and problem-solving skills. This area is a growing career field, especially with everything ending up on the internet these days.
  1. Social Worker

    Social workers are passionate about helping people. They love what they do and aren’t in it for the money. There are several career paths in social work you can take without an advanced degree, or you can use your humanities degree as a stepping stone to pursue a career in sociology to work with a different set of clients, including at-risk youth.
  1. Teacher

    Maybe one of the most obvious career opportunities in humanities is becoming a teacher. Many graduates of humanities are already well-prepared to become teachers due to the focus on writing and speaking. While a little more goes into becoming a teacher, having your humanities degree sure is the biggest hurdle. It would be great to share your passion each day with students developing that same passion and want to learn more about the topics you are covering. 
  1. Technical Writer

    Technical writers are very different from liberal arts writers and that’s what makes humanities graduates great for these positions as they have written a lot of technical reports. Put your technical mind and writing to good use with this career path that is on the rise, oftentimes with more openings than people to fill them.
  1. Travel Agent

    Use your second language or knowledge of another country, in addition to your excellent communication skills to become a travel agent. Perhaps your love for other countries has brought you to several others, and you would like to help vacationers choose a spot that’s right for them. Instead of being a travel agent, you could use your love of travel to become a travel blogger or influencer.
  1. Writer

    Have you been asking yourself, ‘what can I do with a humanities degree?’ You just spent four years writing. Now, you either love it, or you hate it. If you love it, use those writing skills to create content for websites, author a book, or write articles for magazines. Maybe your interests lay more on the performing arts side of things, and you find you’d rather write songs, plays, or screenplays. Goodness knows you’ve had plenty of time to perfect your spelling and grammar over the four years you were getting your degree, with all the writing and research that was required.

In Closing

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, humanities cover a broad range of fields and disciplines, and quite often, a student knows which area they would like to focus on when signing up to major in them. When signing up, they think they’re getting an education in art, history, religion, etc., not realizing they are also getting an education in communication, problem-solving, innovation, and empathy, which serves as a nice balance of interests.

Some of the areas within humanities are very similar to each other. Others seem like they have nothing to do with each other until you look at the root of them, and then you see that they are all connected in one way or another. They are connected. They tell the story of us, as a people, including how we lived and died, what we believed in, what entertained us, and how the rule was kept throughout the ages. 

Getting a bachelor’s degree in humanities is great if you aren’t exactly sure yet what your career prospects are, as it leaves the door wide open, allowing for such flexibility. Start your first year or two taking courses in all different areas of the humanities so that by year three you should know what you would like to focus most on.

There aren’t as many degrees as versatile as one in the humanities. Not only career-wise but also in everyday living. Not only has the humanities shaped our lives and our history, but it has also shaped us individually by teaching us empathy, the world’s struggle, our heritage, the passing and changing of laws, and so much more. It’s easy to see why studying the humanities can open up a world of interest as well as multiple career opportunities.

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