What are the humanities?

The humanities are the study of humanity in its most whole sense. They are the study of not only our past, present and future but rather the fiber of our being. The humanities beg us to ask questions that give insight into the creative imagination and the culture that surrounds us. They are the study of how people process and document the human experience; of what human beings have thought, felt, created, and celebrated; and grow out of an interest in language, literature, and history. But they are not limited to these alone.

For centuries, the humanities formed our cumulative body of knowledge and basis for education, and this are often thought of in terms of academic disciplines including: history, literature, philosophy and ethics, foreign languages and cultures, linguistics, jurisprudence, archaeology, comparative religion, and social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, government, and economics).

The humanities are these and more. Our history has been driven by mastering our world through technology, though science. And as a result, we have sought a distinction between that which can advance technology and that which can develop our social, ethical and creative aspects of life. In spite of this definition, the humanities cannot be confined in this manner.

The humanities are intertwined into science, history, literature, mathematics, art, and medicine. Everything people touch is matter concerned with the humanities.

Why are the humanities important?

We believe the humanities are the tools that can be used to explore and illuminate the major issues of our times. They enable us to take a closer look at problems and investigate potential solutions. President Lyndon B. Johnson and the U.S. Congress declared in the 1965 Act establishing National Endowment for the Humanities, “An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.” The act mirrored the 1964 report in stating that no less than our democracy and freedom depended on the humanities, and that our world’s leadership would be better served by elevating the humanities.

Heart of the Matter