Why You Should Study the Humanities

Want to learn about the opportunities that studying subjects within the Humanities provide?

Are you tired of the criticism leveled against studying Humanities, and the critics who complain that there is no place for them in business world? Then check out these resources for a balanced view of the benefits of studying the Humanities, and how your career choices may be enhanced through a well-rounded Liberal Arts education.

Painting of Edith Sitwell, by Roger Fry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Articles - General Sources
  2. Articles - Academic Sources
  3. Career Resources

Articles from General Resources

The following are articles, blog posts, websites and other sources.

"Use Data to Make a Strong Case for the Humanities." By Norman M. Bradburn and Robert B. Townsend, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Leaders in higher education often ask us how they might make a case for the humanities, when students and parents are so deeply concerned about their economic futures. The answers lie in the very numbers that are so often cited as admonitions against the field."

“11 Reasons To Ignore The Haters And Major In The Humanities” by Max Nisen, Business Insider

This article gives you, as the title suggests, 11 ways the Humanities DO prepare you for the working world. The article also links to other relevant articles from Business Insider and to the recent Georgetown Study on which majors are most employed.

“The Difference Humanities Makes In Business” by Ken Makovsky, Forbes Magazine.

Makovsky, with extensive business experience says, explains how the Humanities are useful in a business career and himself notes: “As I see it, the study of humanities builds the foundation that supports an array of sophisticated public relations skill sets.”

What Can I Do With A Humanities Degree?” by Bruce B. Janz

Janz’ website and the collected information there while focusing primarily on philosophy is applicable to all of the disciplines in the humanities.

“Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities” by Tony Golsby-Smith, Harvard Business Review.

Golsby-Smith explains why those trained in the Liberal and in the Humanities may just be what big business needs to tackle more complex problems. Here are just two of the skills he believes studying the Humanities builds: “People trained in the humanities who study Shakespeare’s poetry, or Cezanne’s paintings have learned to play with big concepts, and to apply new ways of thinking to difficult problems that can’t be analyzed in conventional ways.”

"The Economic Case for Saving the Humanities" by Christina H. Paxson, New Republic

President of Brown University, Paxson tackles the question of whether the Humanities are worth it and whether they should be supported. Offering strategies to push back against critics of the value of Humanities, Paxson suggests that, “ A grounding in the humanities will sharpen our answers to the toughest questions we are facing. We don’t want a nation of technical experts in one subject. We want a scintillating civil society in which everyone can talk to everyone.”

“This Is Irrefutable Evidence Of The Value Of A Humanities Education” by Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post

From the article: “ As Jordan Weissmann wrote in The Atlantic last week, money is a pretty bad way to measure the value of a college major…” this comment is supported by the later one from The Atlantic which reported that “ humanities and social science majors earn a similar amount as pre-professional majors do over a lifetime.”

Weissmann also explains that there is value in choosing an area of study that you truly care about. "There's something to be said for encouraging students to study something that they enjoy, or have a natural talent for. Namely, they're more likely to stick at it.” And later Weissmann notes, “career-specific skills can often be learned on the job -- whereas critical thinking and problem-solving skills are invaluable benefits of a humanities education …”

“Defining the Humanities: A Work in Progress”

This document compiles various quotes and thoughts about the Humanities put together by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC.
Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council gets more to the crux of the problem of define the Humanities when she notes that “It’s not about what the they are, it’s what we do.”

“Helen Small discusses The Value of the Humanities” from the Times Higher Education,” by Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education.

Helen Small’s entire book might be of some interest. Reisz’ review of the book distills Small’s arguments, noting that “Small’s book sets out a taxonomy and assesses the five principal arguments that have been used in relation to the discipline.
The first describes the distinctive features of the humanities such as their “high tolerance of ambiguity” and truth claims based on “coherence” and “rightness” rather than “correctness” and “validity”, builds this into a theory of two or three distinct cultures - and then puts the humanities at the top of the tree.
The other arguments propose that the humanities are “useful” in a purely economic sense or beyond; that they contribute to individual or national happiness; that they are worth studying “for their own sake”; and that they perform a gadfly function in democracy.”

“Defending the Humanties : Practical Value”

by Mike LaBossiere.
Mike LaBossiere takes on the myths of the unemployed and underpaid Humanities major as well as the “uselesslness” of taking Humanities courses. He believes these myths persist because the Humanities may not defend or sell themselves well, the employment rates for their majors are actually higher than those for other disciplines.

“Governor Misses Value of Humanities” from the Chronicle of Higher Education Editorial Board.

The Governor of North Carolina laments that the Humanities are not the bastion of larger universities only. The Editorial Board reminds him that, “Not only does the economy change quickly and unexpectedly, but it also does not exist in a vacuum. In a society that is complex, historical and ever changing, studies in the humanities offer different and equally important perspectives, building communities and producing knowledge in ways that offer benefits beyond the narrow conflation of material worth and value.

Surprise: Humanities Degrees Provide Great Return On Investment by Jeffery Dorfman, Forbes Magazine.

Economist Jeffrey Dorfman looks at the long term earnings potential for those who obtain Humanities degrees, challenging the myth that degrees in humanities are "less useful" and than those in the STEM disciplines. Dorfman researched the impact earning a degree in humanities has on individual lifetime earnings compared to an individual with no college education.

Humanities Research is Groundbreaking, Life-changing… and Ignored - from The Guardian newspaper.

Academic articles from the COD Library databases

    Using the arts and humanities to promote a liberal nursing education: Strengths and weaknesses

    The current university education climate presents obstacles to the promotion of liberal education. Nevertheless, the considerable professional and personal challenges of nursing practice in global terms make such an educational preparation essential. If nursing education to degree level is to commence from 2013, these principal features of liberal education, via these educational standards, must be embedded prominently into new programmes.

    Project Approach in Humanities as a Cognitive Strategy of Modern Engineering Education

    During the studying, future engineers must realise the dependence of professional activity on calls of the times, the state policy, human needs and at the same time understand that technologies change different life aspects both of the human and all biosphere. According to this thesis, the authors pay attention to the problem of cognitive strategies creation which allow forming the social responsibility principles of future engineers during their education. In the work the comparative analysis method is used, i.e. theoretical and experimental researches were being simultaneously conducted in this field. The goal is to form the educational method which will allow students getting a bachelor's degree in technologies to understand that the engineer influences the world by manufactured goods. As a result of applying the project educational method in the Philosophy course, students have received necessary social cultural skills: realizing the anthropocentricity of the engineering profession and engineer's responsibility towards society, understanding basic tendencies of social development and forming the strategic view on reality.

    The status of college students’ critical thinking disposition in humanities

    This survey aimed at measuring students’ critical thinking dispositions in humanities fields. 123 students were randomly selected by stratified sampling method among undergraduate students in the College of Humanities in Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran during academic year of 2010-2011. They completed Ricketts’(2003) Critical Thinking Disposition Questionnaire. Overly, finding showed that all subjects achieved optimal level of critical thinking in the moderated level (p < 0.001,t = 17.56), but not in the strict level (p < 0.001, t = -9.20). Implications for applying active learning and problem solving approaches to enhance students’ critical thinking propositions were proposed.

    Franz Joseph Gall on greatness in the fine arts: A collaboration of multiple cortical faculties of mind

    Although Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) is well known for his organology, i.e., his theory of cortical localization of function largely derived from skull features, little has been written about his ideas pertaining to specific faculties other than speech, and even less attention has been drawn to how the individual faculties might work together in specific situations. Our focus shall be on how Franz Joseph Gall viewed the fine arts, with special emphasis on what one must possess to be outstanding in this field, which he associated with perceiving and understanding relationships, and several higher faculties of mind, including color, “constructiveness,” locality, and recognizing people. How these faculties are utilized, he tells us, will vary with whether an artist does portraits, landscapes, historical scenes, still life compositions, etc., as well as with the selected medium (e.g., oil paints, sketching on paper, stones to be carved). To put Gall's thoughts about the fine arts in context, brief mention will be made of his scientific career, his guiding philosophy, the questions he most wanted to answer, what he construed as “evidence,” how he eliminated the soul or “controller” from his system, and how he presented his work to the public. Some comparisons will be made to what he wrote about having a talent for music.

    Medicine: The Greatest of Humanities

    About two months ago, a second-year medical student e-mailed me to ask about the value of humanities courses. As a humanities major in college, he questioned the overwhelming dominance of required medical sciences in his preclinical classes....

Career Resources

    Career & College Information Collection

    The Career & College Information Collection (CCIC) provides information on educational opportunities, occupational choices and job-seeking skills. This multimedia collection can assist you in planning for your educational, career and employment goals.

    Career Databases at COD

    Links to several COD and open access databases that provide information on careers, education requirements, salary ranges and vocational biographies.