The humanities are disciplines that, put simply, study the intricacies of humans. Certain parts of the human species, like society and culture, are fairly unique among animals and very complex. Studying them can help you understand how society reached where it is today and where it is going.
The humanities look at how people move, how they think, how they communicate, and how they develop culture. The main subjects in the field covered here include philosophy, journalism, library science, and visual arts. Some others in the field include language, literature, history, geography, and religion. Unlike empirical sciences such as chemistry or physics, the humanities do not rely on testing and evidence. Rather, they take a critical and speculative approach.
If you ever find yourself wondering about these parts of humanity, then read on. I will outline the fundamentals of the humanities and provide sources for further reading and discovery.
What are the Humanities?
Science vs Humanities
The selection of humanities articles and books I show you here takes a unique path from the other four main groups of topics on this site. Whereas applied, formal, natural, and social sciences all involve science, humanities (typically) does not. Rather than the scientific method of empirical testing and observation to gather evidence, the humanities often rely on critical and speculative methods.
I don’t mean to say that the field can’t involve scientific methods and practices. But, I will say that many of the topics have no need for it. By that I mean they often aren’t trying to prove theories or solve concrete problems. For example, you can’t do much experimenting with ancient literature. You can only read it and observe how it affected human culture. Thus, the humanities usually focus on exploring human nature and skills. This is why I provide humanities readings that often aim to introduce you to new subjects and activities through guidance and a generally informative approach.
What Subjects Are Included in the Humanities?
Some of the most popular fields in humanities include history, linguistics, literature, law and politics, religion, and performing arts. The main topics that I cover here are philosophy, journalism, visual arts, and library science. I believe they provide a strong foundation of critical thinking skills, creativity, and general knowledge.
Philosophy, for example, encompasses thought on a huge range of subjects that once, long ago, even included physics. The visual arts encourage more expression of emotions and aesthetics, as they have done for centuries. And journalism and library science work to protect and spread knowledge to all people.
What Does a Degree in the Humanities Entail?
In a humanities degree, you will learn to examine common issues and topics from both modern and past human cultures and societies. This examination aims to improve your critical reasoning abilities and communication effectiveness that are critical for many fields. Be prepared to put effort into improving both oral and written communication skills, do a great deal of reading, and discuss work at length with peers and professors. I also want to emphasize that you will need an open mind to approach the various topics from different perspectives.
What Is a Degree in the Humanities Good For?
I frequently hear people suggest that humanities degrees aren’t as useful or worthwhile as others. But, I believe this simply is not true. While math and science are important in the modern world, I hardly think they are the only important fields. Furthermore, they often don’t always teach you critical soft skills like communication, teamwork, empathy, and real-world critical thinking.
But don’t just take my word for it. It is well recognized that these skills can set you up for life in a huge variety of well-paid and in-demand careers. Jobs such in areas like management, law, teaching, sales, marketing, event planning, advertising, and public relations all come to mind. And I can assure you these aren’t unimportant tasks in society. In fact, they are some of the fastest-growing fields out there.
Humanities With a Multidisciplinary Approach
As a field of knowledge, the humanities includes several areas of scholarship including language, literature, history, philosophy, religion, art, politics, and law. Within these frameworks are fields in which academic and professional careers are attainable. Ultimately, those interests revolving around society and culture land in these studies.
Interestingly, this field utilizes a multidisciplinary approach, meaning I include humanities articles that have a broad range. Moreover, you will find that the subjects rely on each other to further develop research and theories. Coursework you might participate in at universities in this field often includes overlapping theoretical bases as well as requirements across multiple departments to provide a holistic approach to studying humans and their societies throughout history.
I should note that these fields are highly appealing to those interested in truly human endeavors like art, music, literature, and language. These disciplines play a role in nearly every culture throughout history. Studying them allows you to identify common issues, themes, and ideas that span multiple eras and places. Humanities scholars not only aim to find these connections and expound upon them, but also develop critical reasoning, effective means of communication, and unite broad areas of knowledge.
In this article, I focus on four fields within the humanities: journalism, library science, philosophy and visual arts. I believe these disciplines showcase great academic principles as well as professional opportunities.
Philosophy as the Original Humanities Discipline
One of the oldest areas of large-scale thinking and formal education, philosophy, studies the grandest questions of life. Philosophers aim to resolve these fundamental questions on knowledge, existence, reasoning and value. However, many philosophers look to study a question of interest and compare the resolutions of multiple other philosophers in order to seek understanding, rather than simply find a singular answer. For reference, I provide a a short list of the types of questions philosophers contemplate, discuss, and study:
What is it to exist? Do humans have free will, and what is that free will? Is there truth, or what is truth? If one can escape punishment, is it better to be just or unjust?
You may have asked yourself these questions as well at some point in your life. In fact, I think many of us ponder these ideas at some point in our lives. I suppose that’s what draws so many people to it throughout time, no matter how society changes.
Some other questions scholars in this field posit delve into religious understandings and contemplation. The ability to look at numerous frameworks of understanding and ethics makes philosophy one of the largest fields of study within the humanities. Moreover, it is also a foundation for many other academic focuses as scholars approach resolving these grand questions from different perspectives. What they share, however, is the use of philosophical methods.
Discussing Logic and Answering Questions
In discussing philosophy, it is important to focus on the approach to answering questions. Thus, I focus on providing articles that go over critical discussion, rational argument, the continuation of questioning, and systematic presentation. These all embody the methods taken to prove perspectives. As such, many other branches of scholarship and thought derive from philosophical principles as well.
Specifically, I will suggest some philosophy books that take a deeper look at learning some more abstract concepts. Many of the subjects in philosophy can’t be properly explored through other methods like science. Rather, they involve deep thought and the use of logic and reason.
I believe books like Fundamental Methods of Logic can provide a solid basis for understanding and mastering this use of logic. Because logic is like a string connecting points together, it is the basis for all solid arguments. I think this book can aid you with introductory logic and critical reasoning classes, or anyone wishing to understand abstract topics or even improve debate skills.
Other books such as Metaethics from a First Person Standpoint give fresh perspectives of certain difficult topics. This particular book approaches the subject as a story based on the inner dialogue of the narrator. I recommend it because it uses clear and plain language to help make some very complicated questions a bit easier for you to grasp.
Some additional popular topics include epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. The words might be a bit intimidating, but really they are just the study of ideas such as knowledge, right and wrong, reasoning, art, and reality in general, respectively. Now is an interesting time in the field, so I urge you to read up on the humanities books here to help you get involved in areas that past philosophers may never have dreamed of.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Philosophy
Of all the topics you can read about, I think books on philosophy will give you the biggest bang for your buck. After all, the field is primarily discussion and analysis through thought. Everything you need is right there on the pages. A good place to start in the field is with an uplifting read about happiness. The Happiness Hypothesis can get you thinking about the changes of people over time and what brings them happiness.
Similarly, I recommend A Guide to the Good Life. It looks at one of the most popular ancient Roman schools of thought and applies it to modern day in order to guide you towards a better life. Then Letters from a Stoic takes a more, well, stoic approach to similar topics. But I am still sure that you will find the wisdom in its pages useful for improving daily life.
If you would prefer something a little more engaging than a book, you might want to try a course. There are various courses to show you specific topics like ethics or moral philosophy. You can also find generic courses like Critical Thinker Academy that cover a wide range of topics like logic, rhetoric, probabilities, and more. Whether introductory or more in depth, there is something out there for everyone.
Subjects Focusing on Practical Studies in the Humanities
Often, I find that the perception of the humanities is that the field is theory oriented. However, I want to make it clear here that much of what is thought about, discussed in the written form, or simply debated finds its place in practical fields. Knowledge, and how it is shared, is the true root of the humanities. As discussed in relation to philosophy, the search for truth is inherent to humans and their pursuit for understanding. As such, putting that pursuit into practice is a necessary feat for societies.
Although many look at journalism as simply “news” and television broadcasts, I will demonstrate here that the field is actually quite large and encompassing. Because it is an area within humanities scholarship, it takes root in several disciplines. Notably, journalism pulls from studies of culture (anthropology) as well as philosophy.
Journalists are, by trade, newsmakers. They seek to gather information, assess its implications and value, then create and disseminate this information to the public. As such, journalists often need to make tough ethical decisions about when and where to publish their findings. This means the field of work is often considered a “whistleblower” field that enables the public to be better informed about controversial political and social currents. I certainly appreciate this, as it allows me to be aware of the people and governments that pose a danger to peace and other positive aspects of modern life. For this reason, journalism also holds a special place in democratic societies. In other words, the large role of journalism permits a more democratic political environment in which citizens like you and I have more information with which to make decisions or cast votes.
Scholarship within the field aims to identify ethical parameters for journalists, best applications for journalistic content development, and links between media studies and other scholarship. Academically, it is still a fairly young area that continues to explore its own limitations and applications. If you’re new to the field, you might start with an article which explores various types of journalism to find out which is right for you. I would also suggest investigating potential universities to attend and qualities of careers in the field.
Reading Material in the Field of Journalism
In this category, I introduce humanities books that open the door to many useful skills for journalists. Of course, one of the fundamental basics for any journalist is writing. I recommend books such as The Simple Math of Writing Well that address this topic in a straightforward manner. Anyone can improve their writing abilities, from those just trying it out to those who are already professionals in a writing field.
I also try to include books that take into account the effects of the modern world. For example, writing in the digital age is of great importance, but the manner in which we do it varies greatly from a few decades ago. Email, instant messaging, fast news, and social media have a different feel and different rules. Adapting to changes through time requires flexibility in writing skills, and these humanities books can help you gain such flexibility.
Similarly, books like The Data Journalism Handbook really take reporting to a modern level. The power of data is increasingly important in a world of abundant but often misleading information. I recommend that students and professionals take notes on backing up their claims in a reliable manner.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Journalism
If you want to get ahead in journalism, I suggest first looking back in time a bit. Reading The Bully Pulpit will give you a good look at the “Golden Age” of journalism during the time of Roosevelt and Taft. With that knowledge, you’ll have a solid background in the dramatic events within journalism.
For a more first-person and personal story of the more recent past, I recommend Working by Robert Caro. You’ll get a glimpse of this reporter’s life and important moments in the history of journalism. Then, if you are more interested in performing journalism than reading about others who have done it, check out the Associated Press Guide to News Writing. It really narrows down on the nuances of writing compelling but high quality pieces.
Not all journalism is on high-end TV channels or in the meeting rooms of huge newspapers. Many people at least start off in and often make careers of freelance journalism and staffers. That’s why I want to steer you towards the course How to be a Journalist – The Complete Guide to Journalism. It will help you not only with writing pieces, but also getting into actual jobs that will pay you for them.
Another course, Mobile Video Journalism, helps with the filming side of jobs like these. Not everyone needs professional grade cameras; what matters is the content and how you present it. But if you really have your heart set on the big leagues, I recommend starting with the basics of putting forth a professional face. Journalism – TV Reporters, News Anchors Look Great on TV will help you appear poised and authoritative on camera wherever you work.
Library scientists invest in many elements of managing not only libraries but knowledge in general. The field of library science is inherently multidisciplinary as a field in the humanities, and so the articles I include here will overlap with other subjects. I will go over how its practices and tools are used for information management, information technology, data organization and more that pulls from multiple areas of scholarship. Plus, I will show you how it takes into consideration multiple perspectives including how and where to disseminate information.
Before getting to modern library science, I would like to start with a brief history. Studies in library science began around the mid-17th century. At that time, it was an accomplishment to simply establish a library to collect written works. Moving into the 19th century, scholarship had expanded greatly with numerous written works circling the western hemisphere in particular. Melvil Dewey designed the famous decimal system, forging a new reason for library management and scholarship on information management. As technology continued to boom through the 20th century into the 21st century, data management became the apparent issue for library scientists.
Modern Library Science
Today, there is a great amount of focus on access to information and working toward equity of dissemination. This is because of a rise in misinformation where people (often purposefully) spread information which is untrue. Often this is done out of malice and towards an end of misguiding people. Other times, it is just done out of ignorance. The articles I present in this category of the humanities will show you current events and trends such as these in library science that are important to know if you are looking to get into the field.
Speaking of modern developments, humanities books on library science will show you how this field has stood its ground over time. This interesting niche is about more than just libraries. Rather, it encompasses the essence of learning and making knowledge accessible to all. Thus, as times change, so do the methods of libraries and librarians.
Libraries adapt to digital resources, embracing the accessibility they provide. Librarians don’t judge the new information age, but do their best to keep up with the waves of new material so that they can help spread it to pupils. I recommend books such as The Information Literacy User’s Guide which shows students how to use all of the available modern tools without getting overwhelmed. Gathering, analyzing, and presenting findings from any topic become a breeze with a step-by-step guide on doing research.
For educators and professionals, on the other hand, I think books like A Field Guide for Academic Librarians will be helpful for creating their own open educational projects. The idea of library science books is that price and other restrictions shouldn’t keep students from learning in any field.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Library Science
I think a great example of the depth of history and effects of libraries on society can be found in The Library Book. Reviewers call it “Marvelous” and “Very Special” for the author’s ability to go down the rabbit hole of the mystery of a catastrophic library fire while simultaneously reflecting on the past, present, and future of the library system in the US.
For a more academic introduction to the field, I suggest Foundations of Library and Information Science. It thoroughly covers how changes in society, technology, politics, and the economy affect users and institutions in the field. Then, an Introduction to Cataloging and Classification gets straight into one of the most important duties of librarians.
Courses online can also help greatly in learning these duties, especially since many modern librarian duties involve technology. Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods help you learn about collecting data, doing interviews, conducting research, and more. Similarly, Research Methodology goes into various types of research and analysis relevant for academia, business, and journals. And for some useful tools in day-to-day work as a librarian, I recommend something like Apps for Librarians and Educators. It will explore some highly useful mobile apps for enabling learning and creating content.
Painting, drawing, sketching, sculpting, photography, film-making, architecture — these are a few of the big-name visual arts. This body of scholarship and design encompasses the fine arts and applied arts. The distinction between these two is based on functionality. Fine arts do not hold functional value in the traditional sense, whereas applied arts incorporate decorative elements in designs intended for use.
However, I shoud emphasize that the visual arts do not only study types of art. Scholars in the field often seek meaning from artists in addition to studying the methods of production of the piece. In this search for meaning and the emergence of interpretation, the field gains a large body of scholarship. Meaning can relate to personal feelings and experience, or make comments on political and other events of the time. Sometimes I venture to say that the meaning is obvious; other times you will find it is quite subtle. In fact, studies in the field will often argue over intent in a piece or interpretation of message from the artist.
For those who participate in the creation of visual arts, studying the world around them is critical. Regardless of the medium, artists who study visual arts and actively create them often draw from a specific source of inspiration. That source then represents an era, a culture, a place, etc. In the act of recording people and their worlds, the visual arts take root in the humanities.
Visual Arts Reading Material to Start With
I know that certain aspects of visual arts can be tough to teach through books. For instance, most of the skills you gain in painting or sculpting will come with practice. However, other parts of the field require a good amount of reading and introspective thought. And introductory subjects in particular can contain a lot of technical information that needs to be absorbed before students can really get hands-on.
For example, working in a theater can mean doing much more than putting on costumes and acting in front of an audience. Behind the scenes of theater production, things can get pretty complicated. In this area, I recommend An Introduction to Technical Theater. It goes into the nitty gritty of logistics, sound, lighting, equipment, and other parts of production.
Another practical resource I suggest in this category of humanities books is Exploring Movie Construction and Production. It focuses on movies and how they’re made, giving the perfect resource for film students or curious readers. From script to screen you’ll learn about the details that make a truly great movie. Those students in film criticism, acting, directing, and script writing will also find it useful to apply to their work.
Highly Rated Books and Courses on Visual Arts
First, I want to introduce you to what some reviews call a “life changer.” Stunning Digital Photography is frequently on lists of the best photography books in the world, and for good reason. It really takes you from beginner to experienced photographer by fusing the book with 14 hours of video. Plus, you will have access to quizzes, forums, and a Facebook page with a helpful community.
For something that focuses more on the culture and story of the visual arts, I recommend Gateways to Art. It puts emphasis on the visual culture that results in contemporary art and analysis of seminal works. Art: A Visual History also goes more into analysis such as telling Expressionism from Impressionism and other stylistic differences in art.
Speaking of contemporary, much of modern art isn’t just about creating for creation’s sake. We all need to make a living somehow, and courses like Contemporary Artist can help you do that. It goes over art history as well, but shows how you can apply it to marketing and business. However, you can also find courses on pure technique, such as How to Paint From Beginner to Master. And courses like Sculpting in Zbrush can help you gain skills in the midst of the highly important emergence of digital art.
Humanities Frequency Asked Questions
I have included some quick notes here to help you get straight to the point of the most important topics in this article. You will find more details above, but the gist is below:
What subjects are included in the humanities?
The humanities include topics about how people move, how they think, how they communicate, and how they develop culture. The main subjects covered here are philosophy, journalism, library science, and the visual arts.
What does a degree in the humanities entail?
Like any university program, a degree in the humanities will include a set of core classes in a a variety of subjects. Then, students have the opportunity to select classes of their interest in specific humanities fields. Towards the end of the program, students of the humanities may do final artistic projects, performances, or research theses. The main skills gained inhumanities programs include critical thinking, creativity, empathy, and analysis.
What is the difference between the sciences and the humanities?
The sciences use empirical methods of testing ideas by using evidence. The humanities focus more on observation, speculation, and history. However, some areas of the humanities can and do use empirical approaches.
What jobs can you do with a degree in the humanities?
There are a range of jobs that focus on areas in the humanities, including teacher, technical writer, artist, counselor, journalist, public relations manager, and therapist.
The humanities are a critical part of work, study, and life of any human.
Even if we don’t realize it, aspects of communication, information, and critical thought are all part of who we are and how we live.
Studying these areas can give you a leg up in many areas of life, from school, to work, to personal relationships. You can improve your writing skills that are necessary in pretty much any field you might work in. You can also pick up skills that are specific to unique fields like library science and journalism that perform important tasks for society.
Pick up one of the books I mentioned above to see just how important the field is in so many ways. The materials I outline here all contain thoughtful structures meant to guide you from start to finish. Many of them provide diagrams and visualizations to demonstrate their points. Some even contain examples or ways to practice the ideas. I am confident that struggling students can use these materials to engage their curiosity and open up their minds to new ways of thinking. Try out a combination of pairing books with online articles and courses to maximize your potential improvement.
How have fields in the humanities affected your life? Do you think more emphasis should be placed on skills and education in the humanities?