What Does it Mean to Study Humanities?
The humanities — also referred to as social sciences — are part of the liberal arts. They are defined by Merriam-Webster.com as “the branches of learning (such as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs… and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry) and social relations (as in anthropology or economics).” Their emphasis can be on any combination of languages, literature, art, music, philosophy and religion.
As a humanities major, all aspects of society — from past events and achievements to human behavior and relationships among groups — can become part of your education. The objective is to learn how to learn, developing your skills in researching, reading, writing and thinking your way through abstract problems.
Your humanities degree should match your own range of personal characteristics and interests. Open-mindedness and adaptability are important in all kinds of humanities disciplines, where the central tenet of study is that humans are incapable of ever being objective, and that all research must reflect that. If you’re curious about this topic of study, keep reading to learn more about degree types available, potential careers and more.
Types of Humanities Degrees
Like a general studies degree or a liberal arts degree, a humanities degree covers such a broad base of disciplines and educational opportunities that it can be rewarding when earned at any degree level. Furthermore, the curricula for these programs tend to be among the most flexible available, offering a convenient method of obtaining relevant skills for a wide variety of careers or other degree programs.
Let’s look at the varying levels of this field in more depth.
Associate Degrees in Humanities
An associate degree in humanities is a versatile degree that can both help students find entry-level work, while serving as a solid foundation for those who hope to pursue a bachelor’s degree later on. Generally speaking, these programs take two years to complete and offer a well-rounded education with an emphasis on courses such as communication, literature, visual and performing arts, and rhetoric. Students are also expected to complete core courses such as science and math.
This can be an ideal degree for a student who is not certain what aspect of the humanities he or she wants to pursue. In a humanities degree program, you can take a variety of liberal arts courses, allowing you to “sample” different majors or concentrations without committing to just one. For example, a student who is considering majoring in either communications or ethnic studies could take courses related to both in the course of their associate degree program, then select their preferred area and pursue it wholeheartedly through a bachelor’s program afterwards.
Courses you might take as a humanities major in a two-year program include:
- Foreign languages
- Interdisciplinary art
- International literature
- Women’s studies
- World religions
Bachelor’s Degrees in Humanities
A bachelor of arts in humanities degree program exists to introduce students to a broad perspective on human behavior, thought and values through selected topics across the arts and humanities. Communication, writing, problem-solving, cultural awareness and critical thinking are all skills that are important to this program.
In many humanities degree programs, you can develop your own course of study which best meets your education goals and career aspirations. You may choose general study, which integrates study in humanities from across the world, or you might focus on a particular geographic area such as American studies, European studies or Asian studies.
Earning a BA in humanities can be a valuable stepping stone to future studies in law, medicine, education or business. Such a program can also be a good way to practice skills that are relevant to various entry-level jobs, such as research assistant, administrative aide, or management or sales trainee.
Some of the courses you might take during this program include:
- Human health
Master’s Degrees in Humanities
Earning a master’s level humanities degree can take your love of learning about humans and history to a new level. This degree program strives to drill down into the underlying ideas and motivations that affect humans and their interaction with the world around them, as well as explore some of the revolutionary concepts and world events that have changed the course of humankind’s thoughts and directions.
Many humanities degrees at the master’s level are offered online, making this degree program a convenient option for busy professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree. Courses you can expect to take as a humanities major pursuing a master’s degree include:
- World history
- Religious studies
- Gender studies
- Art history
- Revolution of humankind
What Can you Do With a College Degree in Humanities?
With the diversity of humanities disciplines, pinpointing a specific job path for a humanities graduate can be wildly different from person to person. Many jobs in policy, research or marketing are good choices for a well-rounded humanities grad. The degree program is meant to help you learn how to communicate clearly, think critically and make reasoned choices — skills that can be beneficial for just about any career. Here are a few of the possible job choices for humanities majors:
Advertising Sales Agents
These professionals sell advertising space to individuals and businesses, a task that can be made easier by a broad understanding of people and the way they think. Studying human culture and society can prove useful for understanding or predicting how people might react to a certain kind of ad — and your specific focus as a humanities major, be it music, philosophy or writing, might spark highly creative angles for your advertisements.
- Although a high school diploma can help you get started in some entry-level positions, many employers prefer a bachelor’s degree.
- Certification is not required for this career.
Social and Community Service Managers
Social and community service managers supervise and coordinate social service programs offered in their cities or communities. These workers brainstorm ways to meet the needs of people in their area, conceptualize new programs that can provide useful services or assistance to their constituents, and oversee programs from start to finish. They must also work within budgets to ensure they are meeting the financial goals of their organization, and they may look for additional funding so they can better meet specific community needs.
- While some social and community service managers have a bachelor’s degree, certain employers may prefer a master’s degree.
- Certification is not offered in this career field.
Community Health Workers
Community health workers discuss local health issues with community members, educate people about the resources offered in their area, and supervise outreach programs with the goal of improving local health. They conduct studies to ascertain community needs, then report their findings to health educators and other professionals. As public servants, however, the main responsibility of these workers is to advocate for the special needs of community members whose voices might not otherwise be heard.
- Health educators must earn at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level employment.
- While not always required, some employers require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential.
Social and Human Service Assistants
Social and human service assistants are responsible for a wide range of client services aimed at supporting families they work with in a variety of fields. They often work in psychology, rehabilitation or social work, with the main goal of assisting individuals, families and social workers to improve their lives. They might work to connect clients with benefits and community services that could be of use to them, or they might offer counseling and advice on how clients could create a healthier future for themselves and/or their families.
- A high school diploma is required for entry level work, although on-the-job training is common as well.
- These workers do not need to be certified to perform their job duties.
Craft and Fine Artists
Craft and fine artists use their creativity and artistic skill to create fine art products for consumption. They create handmade objects — such as jewelry, pottery, textiles or glassware — then sell their products to wholesale distributors or individual buyers. Some artists may go on to work in museums or galleries, where they can use their knowledge of art and art history to educate others on the importance of their craft. Others may become entrepreneurs, extending their artistic vision into the vision for an entire company. Conventions and local fairs, as well as online services such as Etsy and Patreon, can also make a small home-run business a very real possibility for these creators!
- Craft and fine artists often pursue bachelor’s degrees, although master’s degrees are also common.
- Artists do not need to become certified to work in their field.
Humanities Salaries and Career Outlook
Annual Mean Wage
|Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators||12,350||$63,030|
|Community Health Workers||58,950||$44,390|
|Advertising Sales Agents||129,740||$64,660|
|Social and Community Service Managers||156,460||$72,900|
|Social and Human Service Assistants||404,450||$37,050|
Humanities Associations and Organizations
If your goal is taking your humanities career to the next level, it helps to follow associations and organizations that offer resources and expertise in this important field. Organizations you should follow and be aware of include:
- National Endowment for the Humanities — This federal agency aims to increase and improve humanities education in colleges and schools. They also facilitate research opportunities and maintain cultural and educational resources.
- Humanities Education and Research Association — HERA is a professional organization for humanities teachers, scholars and museum directors. Here you can find important information on conferences and networking opportunities in the humanities space.
- The Association for Computers and the Humanities — This organization focuses on the future of humanities in the digital era. Sign up to receive messages about innovations in humanities and technology, networking opportunities, conferences and more.
- National Humanities Alliance — The National Humanities Alliance is a coalition of organizations that share the joint goal of advancing humanities education, research, preservation and public programs. Follow their website for updates about initiatives aiming to boost the humanities and related fields.
- “Humanities” definition, Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanities
- Advertising Sales Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/advertising-sales-agents
- Associate in Arts – Humanities, Ohio University, https://www.ohio.edu/admissions/online/associates-arts-humanities.cfm
- Craft and Fine Artists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/craft-and-fine-artists
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators
- Online Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities, Southern New Hampshire University, https://degrees.snhu.edu/subjects/humanities-bachelors
- Online Master of Arts in Humanities, American Public University, http://www.apu.apus.edu/lp2/humanities/masters
- Social and Community Service Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers
- Social and Human Service Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants