a working definition:
When Professor Robb introduced Humanities in his opening plenary lecture during Sapere Aude, he began with the distinction between Humanities and humanities. According to him, “Humanities” is the course and program that has been at Davidson for about 60 years. The word “humanities” refers to a division within the college with certain disciplines and subjects as opposed to the divisions of natural and social sciences.
In the lecture, Professor Robb also noted that “Humanities is an introduction to humanities in the sense that the kinds of methods and topics that you’re going to see over the year are representative of a lot of what goes on in the humanities.” The course, Humanities, prepares us for an exploration and deeper understanding of the world, one of the main objectives of the humanities.
I see humanities as a very broad term, encompassing the study of languages, literature, philosophy, history, archaeology, anthropology, human geography, law, politics, religion, and art, among other subjects. The list is truly infinite; all subjects can fall under humanities in some regard at some point in time even if they naturally fall in another division. The humanities is a study of the human environment; humans tend to entangle themselves in everything possible (and, perhaps, even the once-impossible).
Humanities is much more specific, as any course must be by nature. It is a study of specific cases, texts, and other forms of work and history that fall under the humanities. The course provides students with the necessary tools and strategies for analyzing the world intellectually and critically, which is necessary in the humanities.
In Unit 1, I found the humanities in the idea of conceptual schemes. The humanities, and Humanities by extension, allows students and others to explore the consequences of conceptual schemes. Our conceptual schemes influence the ways we relate to one another and make us products of certain cultures, places, and ways of living. The humanities is a study of this.
Professor Robb’s lecture on truth and how we are able to tell what can be considered true is part of the mental development that Humanities provides students. When he talked about “On Bullshit,” it taught me to really question everything I approach and ask myself how I know it to be true—and to what extent it really needs to be considered truth, since the requirements are so difficult to meet for that qualification. Learning about conceptual schemes and about truth provides a better framework in which to study the humanities and find success in Humanities.
In Unit 2, I learned that the humanities also teaches empathy towards one another. The listening activity we did when we paired off with a partner and simply listened to them tell a story helped me practice this empathy after Professor Green emphasized the importance of listening to one another and really hearing and understanding someone else’s story. This is crucial to the humanities, and in Humanities we study people’s stories all the time, so it is also relevant. The humanities both teaches and requires a level of empathy, compassion, and understanding that must be practiced.
Professor Green’s unit also brought the civic engagement side of the humanities into the discussion. In many of her plenary lectures, she talked about how theater is a useful tool for understanding and enacting civic engagement in the communities that need it most. Plays engage with issues that are highly relevant to people today, like Augusto Boal and his “Theatre of the Oppressed,” and the humanities is a study of these relevant issues. Humanities studies some of these specific issues.
In Unit 3, I learned that the humanities also works to connect the past to present in an effort to work through times to find similarities and differences. The humanities and Humanities both encourage people to think about the implications of those findings.When we looked at Lemonade from Beyoncé, one of the important themes running through the visual album was how Beyoncé felt connected to and burdened by her ancestors and the history that accompanied them. Similarly, as Professor Fache discussed in her plenary lectures, the Venuses who appear throughout history force intellectual though about the burden of their histories and untold, often undocumented stories. Analyzing this history to see the changes today as well as the things which have stagnated is a function of the Humanities course and the larger, general humanities.
In Unit 4, I learned about some of the moral questions in the humanities and that there may be a limit to what can be rightfully discussed and dissected in Humanities. How morally and ethically wrong is it to tell and talk about the stories that are not your own? How necessary is that same action? The humanities is a delicate balance of these questions, which were brought to light in Professor Tamura’s plenary lectures. In order to study the humanities, one must confront these questions and acknowledge any grievances, like Gourevitch confronts in the excerpts from We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. Like the genocide in Rwanda, there are many unforgettable, tragic events that academically beg to be studied, but one shouldn’t forget the humans, the people, involved in these events while doing so. Without them—without us—the humanities would not exist.
In Units 5 and 8, Humanities taught me the extent to which art is incorporated in the humanities, in both very direct and extremely subtle ways. Ralph Lemon’s dance performances and workshops, which we learned about in Humanities, explored history, social relations, and politics: all concepts that the humanities encompasses. Gerhard Richter’s blurred photograph paintings were seemingly loosely related to the other political aspects of the body we explored in Unit 8 of Humanities, but eventually I came to know how directly the art commented and interacted with its subjects, each of which used their bodies in very political ways (again, a topic that the humanities includes).
In Units 6 and 7, the importance of the historical humanities stood out to me. History provides context for what we learn in Humanities; it is a lens which we can look through to shed some light and familiarity—or maybe unfamiliarity at times—on modern events, people, and places. The humanities wouldn’t exist as fully without its historical aspects.