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What Are the Humanities? All You Need to Know

A common question among college students who are registering for class is, “What are the humanities?” The line between humanities and social sciences can often seem blurred, which is a main cause of the confusion. If you’re wondering what the humanities are, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, we’ll start out with a general definition of the humanities. Then, we’ll give you some examples of fields that are considered humanities. Next up, we’ll compare and contrast humanities and social sciences. Finally, we’ll describe what you can expect from enrolling in humanities courses. Let’s get into it:

Related: Scholarships360 college major guides

Defining humanities

Humanities is the study of human civilization through the ages. This can take many different forms, including literature, cultural studies, foreign languages, philosophy, and religion. Because human civilization has come so far, and is so complex, there is a huge breadth of humanities. How else could we cover such a fascinating and in-depth topic!

But when it comes down to it, there is a common thread that unites the humanities. They are all using different critical methods to analyze the way in which humans have evolved. Whether we are studying a foreign language, an ancient philosopher, or a religion that hasn’t been practiced widely for hundreds of years, we are studying what brought us to our current point in civilization.

Academic fields that are considered to be part of the humanities

General definitions can be helpful, but there’s no substitute for examples. To help you understand what the humanities are, here’s a list of fields it encompasses. All of these fields can be considered humanities. Typically, courses taught at universities that are within these subjects count towards a humanities requirement.

Remember, some of these may vary in official consideration from school to school. For example, anthropology may be considered a social science at one school and part of the humanities at another. If you are here to figure out how to meet your humanities requirement, double-check with the registrar before enrolling.

Also see: How to pick a major

Humanities vs. social sciences: What’s the difference?

Humanities and social sciences have a lot of overlap. It’s hard to provide any hard and fast rules to distinguish the two. Both study the history of humanity and how civilizations have grown and interacted with one another. But there are some rules of thumb that help rationalize the difference. You can think of social sciences as tending to be more quantitative and humanities as more qualitative. 

That is to say, social sciences use more scientific methods and focus more on numbers and definitive conclusions. Humanities scholars often intend to explore the past without reaching a concrete epiphany. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the world’s history, it’s good to study both! Being able to employ qualitative and quantitative understanding of an issue is a unique and valuable skill.

On a practical level, you can expect different experiences from humanities and social science courses. Humanities courses will use less mathematics and scientific research. You’ll rely more on arguments that are based in theory rather than numbers.

What you can expect from courses

In humanities courses, you can expect a wide range of experiences. For example, foreign language courses will be a greatly different experience than an art history course or a philosophy course. Depending on your school and the size of your class, they may be large lectures, or small, discussion-based classes. The main uniting thread will be that they will give you a greater understanding of the human world.

If you are interested in the history of civilizations, humanities are a great choice. If you have a mind for numbers and like looking at data, you may prefer to take social science courses. You can also take a mix of the two. Many fields, such as sociology, anthropology, and history, ride the line between social sciences and humanities. If you decide to major in one of these fields, you can choose which discipline to gravitate towards based on the classes you enroll in. For example, theory sociology courses will be more in the humanities camp. Methods courses will be more geared towards social science.

Careers for humanities majors

Students who pick a major in the humanities can go on to do many things. Art history students may pursue a career in art restoration, while foreign language majors may become a translator. English majors could become journalists, authors, or go into advertising. Classics majors often go on to become teachers. 

You might even decide to pursue an entirely different field. Humanities majors are typically known to be great communicators and writers. These skills open many doors for your future, especially if you decide to attend grad school. Careers in advertising, public relations, and communications tend to be the most profitable options for humanities majors.

Humanities majors’ median salaries can vary based on field of study. English majors have a median salary of $50,000, $9,000 lower than the average. Anthropology majors see a median of $66,130. But remember, no matter your major, your salary can vary greatly based on your chosen career.

Related: What is the average starting salary out of college?

Should you enroll in humanities courses?

Humanities courses can be beneficial for any type of student! Whether you are interested in majoring in a humanities field, or just in trying it out, don’t hesitate. It’s never a bad idea to expand your mind and learn something about how we got here.

Also see: Anthropology major overview