How Do Colleges Define the Study of Humanities?

As you explore the different majors that colleges offer, you’re sure to come across the study of humanities as an option. Although this is a pretty popular subject, there is some amount of confusion about what exactly is the study of humanities and what are the benefits of studying humanities.

This article explains how colleges define the study of humanities and what you can expect when you choose this as your major.

What Is the Study of Humanities?

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The humanities focus on the study of human cultures, behaviors, societies, and economies through the ages. It entails learning how humans have created their world over the centuries and they in turn have changed in this ever-evolving world. Students of humanities learn a wide range of subjects using methods that are primarily speculative and have a significant historical component.

Most universities categorize the humanities into a number of different majors. These are then grouped together under the humanities umbrella.

These are some of the many humanities majors you could choose to pursue:

  • Art history
  • Ethnic studies
  • Gender studies
  • Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Ancient and modern languages
  • Linguistics
  • Comparative literature
  • Religious studies
  • Visual and performing arts such as music, drama, and theatre
  • English history
  • Cultural history

Over the past few years, the humanities have widened their scope even more. Many universities also include disciplines such as law, anthropology, political science, and archaeology under humanities.

These just skim the surface of majors included in the humanities. There are several more humanities majors and some colleges divide them further into more niche branches.

How The Study of Humanities Is Different from Social Science

There are a few similarities between these two disciplines leading to a lot of confusion about the differences between the humanities and social science. Both are components of the broad filed of Liberal Arts along with the arts and natural sciences. Both explore and investigate the human world and society. Many subjects taught in the humanities major are similar to those taught in Social Science.

However, there are significant differences between the two in terms of the specific topics they cover, the way they approach the topics, and the types of questions they pose.

Social science majors focus on using statistical or mathematical data to analyze populations or events. Humanities on the other hand focus on making theoretical and interpretative arguments. Statistical and mathematical data is rarely used in the study of the humanities.

Humanities students reflect on perennial questions of human existence. ‘How do humans across time and cultures interpret and understand concepts of good and evil or happiness and suffering?’ ‘How do different cultures across time define beauty?’ ‘What constitutes a just society or a just action?’ These questions seek to fire students’ imagination and sharpen their critical thinking and imagination.

As a social science student you’ll spend most of your time collating and interpreting statistical data. As a humanities student you’ll spend most of your time reading up on history of different cultures and interpreting that information using your own perspective. These are two completely different approaches to essentially similar subjects.

Benefits of studying humanities

So why would anyone want to study the humanities and how would it benefit them?

Humanities courses teach students about far more than just the Spanish Civil War or the works of George Bernard Shaw. As you dive into these areas, you gain valuable transferable skills that can boost your resume and your employability. A humanities degree prepares you for a wide range of careers from advertising and writing to museum-related roles.

Humanities students gain these six soft skills that are desirable in almost all jobs:

#1. Writing Skills – A major part of studying the humanities involves forming evidence-backed arguments and presenting them clearly. To do this you’ll need to master two critical skills – persuasive writing and clear communication.

#2. Research Skills – The coursework requires you to work with a variety of sources, from primary sources and surveys to images and analytical texts. Learning how to identify relevant details and analyze the sources helps to improve your research skills.

#3. Critical Thinking Skills – As you pore over tons of research papers, you’ll learn to evaluate the information with a critical eye and present concise and logical conclusions. Some of these conclusions have to be presented as persuasive evidence-based arguments. All of these will build your critical thinking skills.

#4. Analytical Skills – This complements but is different from critical thinking skills. Thinking critically and objectively about the research sources and constructing logical arguments based on your findings helps improve your analytical skills.

#5. Creativity – What sets the humanities apart from most other majors is the creative component. It’s not enough to simply learn about a historical or scientific fact. You have to set aside assumptions and use your creativity to come up with innovative solutions.

#6. Communication skills – You’ll hone your communication skills as you learn to work independently and as a team member.

These are important transferable skills that can hold you in good stead in any industry.

What Jobs Can You Get as A Humanities Major?

Graduating in the humanities does not lead to a job as a humanist. This is unlike most other career-focused degrees that prepare you for jobs in certain fields. So what kinds of jobs can you get if you decide to study the humanities?

Interestingly, it prepares you for a wide range of careers, usually in fields related to your major. For example, an English major can prepare you for a career in writing, advertising or editing. A foreign-language major can lead to a role as a translator or interpreter. A history major provides a solid foundation for a role as a museum worker or archivist. Some majors may also prepare you for law school.

Employers often give preference to students of the humanities especially when hiring for potential leadership roles. This is because these roles require individuals with strong communication, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.

Is A Humanities Degree Right for You?

Humanities students study a range of interesting topics from ancient civilizations to complex philosophical questions. During the course of studying these topics, you’ll develop several crucial transferable skills that will prepare you for a variety of roles related to your major. The key is to being successful is to think creatively about how you’ll apply your knowledge and skills to different industries. Search majors today.

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