What Are the Humanities?

Here are five good, short definitions of the humanities.

These definitions are a sample from a variety of sources and more than one nation–something like a starter kit on the humanities (and their overlapping relation with what different countries also call “the liberal arts,” “the arts,” “humanities and arts,” and sometimes also the humanistically-oriented “social sciences.”

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, 1965, as amended (the U. S. Congressional Act that created the National Endowment for the Humanities)

“The humanities—including the study of languages, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, comparative religion, ethics, and the arts—are disciplines of memory and imagination, telling us where we have been and helping us envision where we are going.”

The Heart of the Matter (Report of the American Academy of Arts & Science’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences to the U. S. Congress in June 2013)

“What are the humanities? It is like the notion of ‘time’ in St. Augustine: if you don’t ask, we know, but if you ask, we are left empty handed. Since the nineteenth century the humanities have generally been defined as the disciplines that investigate the expressions of the human mind. Such expressions include language, music, art, literature, theatre, and poetry. Thus, philology, linguistics, musicology, art history, literary studies, and theatre studies all belong to the realm of the humanities.”

–Rens Bod, A New History of the Humanities: The Search for Principles and Patterns from Antiquity to the Present (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013)

“Research stemming from a detailed understanding of human behaviour, economies, cultures and societies can dramatically redefine the crucial decisions we need to make. These decisions may involve the future direction of our economy, ways of broadening and strengthening education provision at all levels, or how we deal with the effects of climate or constitutional change… The humanities and social sciences teach us how people have created their world, and how they in turn are created by it.”

–The British Academy for Humanities & Social Sciences, “Press Pack”.

“The humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts such as music and theatre. Areas that are sometimes regarded as social sciences and sometimes as humanities include history, archaeology, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, classical studies, law and linguistics…. The humanities and social sciences teach us how people have created their world, and how they in turn are created by it.”

–Wikipedia, “Humanities,” 2014.

53 thoughts on “What Are the Humanities?

  1. I am currently a student in a Humanities class and these quotes are good perspective. I don’t say definition, because I feel that the truest defining element of Humanities is our internalization and expression of the arts, our creative self.

  2. The views of how this page broke down Humanities will be helpful for me to gain the understanding of just what Humanities consist of.


    Lisa Lockett

  3. Humanities are, The history’s theory’s of the modern and classical art;s I think David Wright was right about what he wrote, That it is up to us on how we interpret humanities.

  4. I do believe we all interpret Humanities different, and i think that is ok. For me, i think of Humanities more along the lines of art and thinking. What makes us up as humans.

  5. The study of humanities includes cultures and their academic disciplines all 5 definitions include the types of: ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, history, archaeology, religion

  6. Here’s how I would combine all of these:
    “The Humanities are a family of academic disciplines that study and interpret human society and culture, often from the perspective of history and heritage, in an effort to help us understand where we’ve come from and where we are headed. These disciplines include: language, literature, history, philosophy, ethics, religion, law, politics, anthropology. Some definitions also include the visual and performing arts, while others separate these off as a subset of the “Arts and Humanities”.

  7. The study of the collection of concepts that deal with human culture such history, music, art, literature and thinking. Basically, all things that define as humans.

  8. Humanities is the history of all topics. It is what we have gone through throughout history in regards to the interpretation on language, literature, philosophy, archaeology, ethics, and social science.

  9. Humanities is a broad term and the study of humanities is the study of people. Humanities disclose how humans were created, how humans passed their values to generations, and how humans developed their civilizations. The term unfolds a variety of aspects including language, history, literature, linguistics, jurisprudence, philosophy, archaeology, religions, ethics, art, social science. Humanities also demonstrate how human shapes culture and how culture shapes us.

    1. Humanity’s in it’s whole will see our mistakes and how not to make future ones, not to perfect the human race but to understand how to improve our own destinys

  10. It’s interesting how humanities has been around for ages, but in all shapes and forms. The language we use, we read about it and even watch it in front of our eyes unfold without even realizing it.

  11. The study of humanities is the study of human society and culture. The study of ancient and modern languages, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology, law, religion and the arts.

  12. The idea of Humanities I am understanding is the relation of humans progression by the world and vice versa.

  13. The study of Humanities is the study of human culture, which studies the languages, literature, history, religion, ethics, arts, and etc.

  14. Each definition of Humanities are mention studies of ancient and modern languages, literature, and philosophy.

  15. After reading all five definitions from different organizations in differing areas of the world, I noticed they all commonly describe the humanities as the interpretation of ethics, history and language, in the hopes of foreseeing our future by understanding our past.

  16. How collective and individual as debates relate to humanities as a field of study

  17. I am a student in this humanities class that wants to learn more about culture and religion well mostly culture. Humanities is the history of topics that shows what people do everyday. We know different types of language, ethics, literature and philosophy and sometimes social sciences.

  18. Humanities is the study of different ideas that deal with human culture like history, arts, religion ethics and human experiences. All definitions share the idea of each a person’s interpretation.

  19. Humanities are humans’ societal expressions. Every category art, ethics, history, language, law, literature, philosophy, and religion are unique to humans. What is valued or important is learned by studying these identifiers in different eras of human evolution.

  20. I have always thought of the term “humanities” having multiple definitions or meanings. It is very difficult to just place my finger on one definition that will be correct. However, if I had to choose one meaning that would fit the term most times it it used I will definitely choose the third option. I understand that we each may interpret humanities differently and that is perfectly fine. I believe that it has more to do with the humans mind and the art and rationality behind it.

  21. The study of Humanities are academic studies of culture and human society. These studies include; ancient and modern language, literature, philosophy, history, ethics, human geography, politics, and religion.

  22. Humanities is the study of human culture and society and the collection of ideas include: language, literature, philosophy, ethics, religion, history, and jurisprudence.

  23. I like the breakdown of paragraphs explaining the study of Humanities. I’m looking forward to venturing into a more depth prospective of Humanities especially Philosophy.

  24. I would defy humanity’s by the culture of how people lived. In different time periods and how they used art, language, architecture, ethics, and literature. To even how we are currently communicating through our phones which are a big part of our culture.

  25. I also beilieve humanities are the history of all topics. We all have our own perspective and opinion on all the different types of humanities. Weather it be art, literature, philosophy, ethics, religion, or any other hummanity. Being able to distinguish or try to come up with a conclusion as to why they made their art the way they did or why they wrote in certain ways.

  26. Humanities is the language, history, philosophy and their studies. They go into dept explaining them and how they were changed through out the years. The study of the poems, the art everything regarding history.

  27. The criticism and theory of the arts is very crucial as it enables an artist to see their creations from multiple perspectives while providing the consumers with the ability to form criticisms based off of their own values and beliefs.

  28. I came here to learn more about my enrolled course Social Meida, Practices and Principles and turns it’s related to this topic, Very much appreciated to this information I learned a lot.

  29. Humanity’s in it’s whole will see our mistakes and how not to make future ones, not to perfect the human race but to understand how to improve our own destinys

  30. Humanities are the fields of study that focus on people and their cultures, or on analytical and critical methods of inquiry that are developed from an awareness of human values.

  31. The best definition related to my current humanity course is the first definition. It talks about how to apply the humanities to national life, meaning other peoples lives or even my own life. Right now we are getting ready to compare to artifacts and how they relate to each by comparing them to our lives just like this definition talks about.

  32. For me, It is the studies that studied all the evolution of humanity and allow us to understand and appreciate the historicity of different inventions and art over the world

  33. I think that humanities are the study of human expression regardless if that expression is in literature, music, movies, photos, or art. Each time period has certain famous pieces that represent their era and what was happening within society or personally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *