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What are the humanities and why are they important?

Traditionally, the humanities encompass all the various disciplines that focus on topics related to human culture, human experiences and expressions, and society as a whole. There are a vast range of humanities disciplines, including history, literature, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and more. 

By studying humanities, we are able to learn more about ourselves and gain a deeper perspective into the intricacies of our identities, interactions, and cultures. This exploration allows us to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to connect with those in our communities, become better and more global citizens, and create a more open-minded and harmonious world around us.

Learning the humanities has also proven to help nurture key skills. Here are five of them recently reported in the Value of Humanities report by Oxford University: 

  1. Critical Thinking

  • Through the vast array of humanities disciplines, individuals are able to encounter diverse voices and viewpoints. This helps challenge preconceived notions and encourages a more nuanced understanding of complex issues. For example, studying history allows individuals to look at the past from a number of different perspectives, both from the perspectives of different nations and through different lenses - political, ethical, societal, and more. This multifaceted approach allows individuals to develop the skills to think critically and consider problems from different angles.

  1. Effective Communication

  • By studying human experiences and interactions, individuals are able to gain important social skills that allow them to understand and empathize with people of all different viewpoints, something that is valuable in both personal and professional relationships. For example, while studying literature, individuals analyze and discuss characters’ experiences and practice articulating their interpretations and insights clearly. Engaging with works from authors from different cultural backgrounds in different periods of time allows readers to better understand societal and cultural dynamics and learn how to navigate diverse viewpoints.

  1. Creative Thinking

  • By looking at and appreciating all different forms of expression, individuals learn how to think more creatively. For example, while studying philosophy, individuals are asked to contemplate deep questions about life, humanity, and the nature of existence. Engaging with these concepts and in debates allows individuals to explore innovative and outside-the-box ideas. This helps develop the skills to approach any problem with creativity and innovation.

  1. Teamwork

  • Collaboration is on the upswing in the humanities. From doing research together, collaborating on an article, presenting at a conference, and teaching, individuals in the humanities are working together to analyze, discuss, and present knowledge. Collaborative projects require individuals to come together, discuss their ideas, and choose what findings to present. This helps individuals gain the skills to navigate group dynamics, learn how to appreciate and best utilize different strengths and perspectives within a team, and build lasting networks that can work together to solve the world’s problems.

  1. Problem-Solving

  • In the humanities, individuals are constantly challenged and asked to analyze and solve problems. For example, when exploring ethical considerations in the medical or technological fields, individuals have to navigate complex moral landscapes which often have no completely clear solution. Whether it is interpreting historical events, addressing ethical dilemmas, or navigating cultural differences, individuals experience a myriad of different activities that help them develop key analytical and problem-solving skills. In the real-world, this helps individuals to tackle any problem, no matter how nuanced or challenging it is.

The world is changing and many people are experiencing more unpredictable professional careers. The average college graduate will change their career path at least five times, if not more. As a result, employers are increasingly prioritizing the well-rounded and transferable skills that the humanities nurture. Recent studies found that employers would rather hire someone with strong soft skills than technical expertise in their field: employees can learn technical knowledge on-the-job, but soft skills are much harder. Spending time studying the humanities is a valuable investment that not only creates more adaptable, empathetic, and well-rounded individuals, but also leads to more professional success and the ability to contribute to a more interconnected and harmonious global society.


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