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What Are the Humanities?

The “humanities” are academic disciplines that study various aspects of human culture. History, literature, languages and cultures, philosophy, the arts—all these and more can be called “the humanities.” The humanities and arts teach students how to study people, societies, artifacts, and events. They teach critical and creative thinking, especially when dealing with subjective situations. They teach us how to understand other people and cultures, how to communicate effectively, and how to analyze and understand human behavior. Studying the humanities trains students to recognize and appreciate the diversity of human life and experience, allowing them to question, comprehend, and transform an increasingly globalized world.

You may have heard disparaging remarks about humanities degrees. Perhaps you’ve been told that obtaining a humanities degree won’t help you get a “real” job. On the contrary, studying the humanities provides students with many of the skills employers want: effective communication skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to solve complex problems, and ethical decision-making skills. In addition, humanities graduates have comparable employment rates to graduates with other degrees.

To learn more about why the humanities matter, check out the infographic “The Humanities Matter!” from 4Humanities.

What Can You Do With That?

So what can you do with a degree in a humanities field? An enormous range of things, as it turns out. Individuals who majored in the humanities have gone on to become academics, politicians, CEOs, journalists, film directors, scientists, activists and more.

You may think that it would be better to just get a degree more directly related to what you think you want to do. However, many people are quite vocal about owing their success to their “offbeat degrees.” For example, Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who double majored in English and theater, stated in a USA Today article that his knowledge of literature is “unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships. It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick."

Many other notable CEOs echo his sentiment in the same article, stating that they wouldn’t have gotten where they are today without their background in a so-called ‘useless’ degree. Having people from many different academic backgrounds, they argue, is essential to bringing fresh perspectives to the table.

You can find out more about how majoring in the humanities can be helpful outside of academia in the article 11 Reasons to Ignore the Haters and major In the Humanitiesfrom Business Insider.

Be sure to also check out the below resources to learn more about successful humanities alumni: