This introductory lesson will explore the Humanities as an interdisciplinary collection of academic fields that investigate the ways that humans express and communicate shared experiences through time and space. It will cover the role of the Humanities in society, the importance of studying the Humanities in order to better understand the human experience, and the benefits of participating in the Humanities as a field of practice.

Introductory Lesson Objectives

  • Define the Humanities in broad and collective terms related to humanism
  • Identify the ways that the Humanities communicate the shared experiences of being human and meanings of life
  • Understand how the Humanities shape and are shaped by both social and creative processes
  • Explain how you can benefit from the Humanities

What are ‘the Humanities’?

The humanities can be defined as an integrated study of the various ways in which people, from every period of history and across cultures, process and document the shared experience of being human. This is referred to as humanism, an outlook or perspective that takes a human-centered approach to reality. Humanism stresses the importance of human experiences, capabilities, needs, pleasures, problems and potential. Humans have used creative mediums such as history, philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, and language to understand and record what it means to be human. As a result, the study of the humanities is a study of the human journey.

The humanities also demonstrate the way that human beings historically create and share meaning as individuals, as communities, and as cultures through a creative expression that transcends time and space.  What this means is that the human experience is timeless; whether the individual was born 1,000 years ago or yesterday, there are particular aspects of being human that remain the same such as; the feeling of falling in love, losing a loved one, taking a risk, contemplating death and life, seeking a sense of belonging, recognizing beauty in nature, experiencing rejection, losing a homeland, questioning one’s identity …this list goes on and on. While small external differences such as skin color, religion, clothing, wealth, and politics generate cultural differences that divide people, the humanities highlights what we share and the beauty that comes from connecting with others in very deep and personal ways. This is what makes the humanities an important aspect in developing an understanding of who we are, our role in society, and how we envision the future of our humanity.

Yet, the Humanities as a discipline is in danger. During times of educational budget cuts, the humanities are often times the first area of study to take a hit. Important subjects such as art, music, drama, and creative writing are sacrificed in order to ensure funding for skill and trade-based learning such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). While STEM fields are also important, the elimination of the creative arts in educational curricula fails to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the Humanities and STEM; without creativity there is no innovation. The video below touches on the important role of the Humanities for learning, developing, and life.

Why Study the Humanities?

Studying the humanities not only allows us to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, it also enhances our ability to think critically, recognize meaning, develop the capacity to innovate, and engage in higher orders of thinking and consciousness. The humanities can also increase our success as a student and employee. This is the basis for the top ten reasons to study the Humanities by Clayton State University;

  1. To practice the analytical thinking skills you need to be a successful student and employee.
  2. To improve your skill at oral and written communication.
  3. To see the interconnectedness of all areas of knowledge – how it all fits together.
  4. To develop a global perspective by studying cultures throughout the world.
  5. To deepen your understanding and appreciation of other’s cultures and other’s points of view.
  6. To support and strengthen your local arts community by learning to appreciate the importance of creativity.
  7. To clarify your values by comparing and contrasting them to what others have thought.
  8. To deepen your sources of wisdom by learning how others have dealt with failures, success, adversities, and triumphs.
  9. To appreciate what is enduring and to be able to tell the difference between the meaningless and the meaningful.
  10. To be inspired by some of the greatest minds and thoughts of the ages.

The humanities also illuminates the symbiotic relationship between our left and right brain functions.

Left and Right Brain

The human brain is central command for what humans think, feel and do. Recent research in neuroscience has shown that while the left and right sides of the brain look alike, they perform very different, yet interconnected, functions.

According to the research of psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry. The left brain processes are connected to logic, sequencing, linear thinking, mathematics, facts, thinking in words – it is responsible for the verbal, analytical, and orderly means of thinking. The right brain is more visual and intuitive side responsible for imagination,  thinking in systems, intuition, arts, rhythm, nonverbal cues, feelings visualization, and daydreaming. The right brain is responsible for abstract thinking, creative expression, emotional connection, and innovation. The Left and Right sides of the brain are interconnected through nerve pathways, and they cognitively work together to perform complex functions such as critical (right) analysis (left), systemic (right) logic (left), new/creative (right) reasoning (left), abstract (right) functions (left), and innovative (right) strategies (left). Therefore, education and training that ignores right brain functions deprives students of the ability to participate in new, exciting, and progressive intellectual experiences. The creative capacity of the right-brain is the genius behind the design in Leonardo da Vinci’s machines, such as the war machines below that serve as the protype for equipment used in modern warfare today.

This course is designed to challenge you to exercise right-brain thinking by producing expressive pieces that communicate in non-linear, creative and abstract ideas. Thinking back to childhood, you might be able to recall a time when a box of crayons and a piece of paper easily occupied you for extended periods of time. Right-brain dominance defines our youth, as our imagination and creativity flourished and flowed freely onto paper, playdough, blocks, legos, and other toys. Through time and schooling, however, right-brain activities become secondary to memorization and formulaic training. By the time we reach higher education, drawing becomes more difficult, maybe even impossible as we become more obsessed with meeting criteria and achieving acceptance of others than allowing ourselves to imagine, experiment, take risks, push boundaries, and play in our minds.  This is why a large number of multi-billion dollar companies are creating toy rooms for employees to exercise right-brain processes and unlock creativity (See “How companies are using legos to unlock talent they didnt know they had“), and ‘adult coloring books’ have become the latest trend (“Adult coloring books are not Just a Fad“).  The creative class activities in this course will help you exercise your right-brain.

Humanities and Public Participation

Creative expression of the shared human experience allows human connection through the past, present and future. This makes the humanities a central part of public participation. Public humanities is the work of government, non-profit, coprorate, and community-based cultural organizations that create spaces where the public can engage in conversation, learning and reflection about issues and ideas related to shared human experiences such as war, poverty, love, beauty, identity, family, and more. Public humanities projects include exhibitions and programs related to historic preservation, oral history, archives, material culture, public art, cultural heritage, and cultural policy. Examples of some private/public institutions and organizations that implement public humanities programs are: museums, parks, cultural organizations and community centers, libraries, archives, historic sites, art galleries and exhibits, radio shows, performances, etc.

Digital humanities (DH) is a 21st century integration of the humanities and technology, and it includes the systematic use of digital resources to document and analyze the humanities as well as the use of digital resources to produce creative expressions. DH brings digital tools and methods to the study of the humanities with the recognition that the printed word is no longer the main medium for knowledge production and distribution. DH produces and uses new kinds of teaching and research techniques, while at the same time studying and critiquing how these impact cultural heritage and creative expression. Thus, DH is its cultivation of a two-way relationship between the humanities and the digital world. One example is the emergence of digital storytelling. Storytelling is an ancient human practice that not only codifies the human experience, it also connects people through the act of sharing a narrative. The digitization of storytelling is a new approach to sharing history. Explore the digital storytelling website produced by Dr. Edward Gonzalez-Tennant which uses gaming technologies to reconstruct the past experiences of the Rosewood community in Florida.

Digital Storytelling

Similarly, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida aims to archive and preserve oral histories that are at risk of being lost forever. With more than 6,500 interviews in our archives, a team of student researchers, interns, volunteers, and staff are dedicated to gathering, preserving, and promoting living histories of individuals from all walks of life.

Context and Analysis

Understanding the humanities also demands an interrogation into the ways the humanities are produced and shared. This requires us to analyze the context in which an expression is created (historical time period and what was happening at the time), to recognize the social role of the individual producing the expression, and to identify what is being expressed and why. we will take a closer look at analysis in the second module of this course. In this first module, however, we will pay closer attention to understanding the relationship between fantasy and imagination in creating our reality, contemplating our assumptions about truth and perspective, and recognizing the ways that the humanities is shaped by those who have the power to express and represent.


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For Online Discussion: Introduce yourself to your classmates in the Introductions discussion forum located in Canvas; use terms and concepts from this lesson (including videos and readings) to describe at least one way that you can benefit from studying the Humanities. How can the Humanities complement the studies in your major? Be sure to respond to at least two other classmates to receive credit.

When you complete the discussion in Canvas, move on to the Identity lesson.