Humanities Definition

The Humanities encompasses the study of uniquely human traits, practices, and ideas as a means to express oneself and relate to others. The first step in determining what topics constitute the Humanities is to determine what quality makes a person human and separates mankind from other animals. Is it our sense of reason, as Locke would say? Or our capacity to transform the environment through productive activity, as Marx would claim? Dr. Quillen stated in her opening lecture that the Humanities relate closely to language and our ability to document the human experience through words. A fundamental challenge of language that occurs frequently in the Humanities is referring to all people with the broad term “human,” which ignores the ways in which we are different, and how our unique individual identities contribute to the human identity as a whole. When forced to adopt a single identity, it is easy for people to reduce people different from themselves to a characteristic and make them the “other.” People’s ability to detach from their fellow humans by removing the humanity of the “other” in order to inflict violence is another uniquely human pattern of behavior. Some areas of study, like the history of the Enlightenment, when scientists revealed the mathematical logic behind the functioning of the universe with limited technology, demonstrate the immense human intellectual capacity its infinite potential for good, but the Humanities must also reconcile the darker side of humankind. Events like the Rawandan genocide and the brutality inflicted on protestors during the Civil Rights movement reveal the unbelievable human capacity to wreak destruction on neighbors. In moments like these, human behavior does not appear much different from the lawless animal kingdom. Thus, the Humanities seek to understand how the dichotomy of humanity’s potential for production and destruction, and people’s inclination toward both good versus evil can exist, and how these contradictions produce a uniquely human experience. 

Pictures of notes I took in my red notebook during plenary lectures that helped me write my definition of the Humanities