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What are the Humanities?
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. “Humanities” comes from the Latin word "humanus" meaning human, cultured and refined. Culture includes speech, knowledge, beliefs, arts, technologies, ideals, and social rules. In our department we have three Humanities concentrations: American Studies, Humanities, and Film Studies. Each concentration shares an underlying goal, to study social life through the arts. But each concentration focuses on different geographical locations and cultural eras. See the individual pages for more information on each concentration.
Why are the Humanities important?
Through exploration of the humanities we learn how to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions. Because these skills allow us to gain new insights into everything from poetry and paintings to business models and politics, humanistic subjects have been at the heart of a liberal arts education since the ancient Greeks first used to them to educate their citizens.
Research into the human experience adds to our knowledge about our world. Through the work of humanities scholars, we learn about the values of different cultures, about what goes into making a work of art, about how history is made. Their efforts preserve the accomplishments of the past, help us understand the world we live in, and give us tools to imagine the future.
What are the skills one learns as a Humanities major?
One of the key ways of thinking about what a Humanities major prepares you to pursue after graduation is to focus on the skills one acquires as a Humanities student. These include:
- Effective reading and writing skills--vital to any job for which a college degree
is a necessity, effective writing means the ability to successfully and precisely
communicate one's ideas in text. Humanities majors pay careful attention to language,
and have the capacity to form cogent arguments.
- Critical analysis skills--vital to the decision-making process for any job, critical
analysis means the ability to analyze a situation and come up with creative and practical
- Research skills--vital to any job, research skills mean the ability to understand
past practices and policies and to trace the roots of any issue, to find new information
which bears on that issue, and to incorporate that information into one's analysis
of an issue.
- Interdisciplinary thinking and training--vital to any position, interdisciplinary
thinking and training means the ability to think about a problem in a multitude of
ways, to analyze it using multiple tools, and to provide solutions which draw from
different traditions of thought. Humanities majors possess a wide range of historical
knowledge, and are trained to think creatively, to understand ideas and values with
sensitivity to cultural differences.
- Curiosity and inquisitiveness--vital to any position, curiosity and inquisitiveness mean the desire to learn more and to continue learning, to examine reasons beneath issues, and to come to understand them as part of a continual, life-long, education process.
What are some of the career paths which Humanities majors commonly follow?
Humanities majors as Educators:
Many Humanities majors go on to become educators, focusing on the communication of their ideas. Educators include teachers in Elementary and Secondary education. They also include Higher Education on many levels, including teaching at community and junior colleges, undergraduate colleges, and universities. But educators are also important members of other educational institutions that you may not think of as immediately as schools. These include historic sites and museums, where history majors can become docents, education directors, curators, guides, and interpreters. In addition, there are other forms of teaching than standing up in front of a classroom. These include work as historical consultants, contract archivists, public historians, writers, and even filmmakers.
Humanities majors as Museum Curators:
History is an important part of Humanities, and many Humanities majors help preserve history by becoming museum curators. Museum curators acquire and maintain paintings, sculptures, historical artifacts and other works of art displayed at museums. They contact collectors, attend auctions or estate sales and visit historical landmarks to obtain objects that coincide with the theme of their museums. Many curators are in charge of administrative and marketing duties, such as securing funding, planning special events or short-term themed exhibits, developing educational programs and hiring museum personnel. The the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that while the majority of curators work in publicly or privately funded museums, some are employed by government agencies, postsecondary institutions, parks and gardens, zoos or designated historical sites.
Humanities majors as Researchers:
Many Humanities majors go on to careers as researchers, emphasizing their skills in evaluating and analyzing documentary evidence. Humanities scholars as researchers include public historians as well as policy advisors, who serve as planners, evaluators, and policy analysts, often for state, local, and federal governments. In addition, Humanities scholars often find employment as researchers for museums and historical organizations, or pursue additional specialized training to become professionals in cultural resources management and historic preservation.
Humanities majors as Writers and Editors:
Because success as an Humanities majors depends upon learning to write effectively, many Humanities majors become writers and editors. They make their living as authors of historical books, or more commonly, they work as editors at a publishing house. Many Humanities majors become print and broadcast journalists, and others become documentary editors who oversee the publication of documents such as those produced by government agencies.
Humanities majors as Information Managers:
Because Humanities majors must learn to deal with documents, many pursue a one- or two-year graduate program in library studies (commonly, a Master of Library Science, or MLS, degree) or archival management and enter careers as information managers. With this additional training, they enter the fields of archives management, information management, records management, and librarianship.