Definition of Humanities

Much like revolution, it is difficult to sum up the definition of the Humanities in simple terms, in large part due to how broad that definition can be. At first glance it seems like the Humanities is the study of progress for the sake of progress, and to some extent that definition remains valid, but contradictions emerge in several examples in the course.  How can the lessons imparted from a genocide or disaster be referred to as progress? It isn’t as if such lessons are new: at best, they are a return to zero, and in any case not worth the suffering they caused. The Humanities can mean the study of progress, and it can also mean the critique of that progress, but it may also be the attempt to comprehend a tragedy or trauma. If revolution is the impact and legacy of a change in a community, then the purpose of the humanities is to examine that impact through the lens of human experiences.

The range of the Humanities, as this past year has proven, can be unbelievably broad – so broad than nearly any topic can arguably fall under its domain. From the consequences of radical change in society, to the intersection of art and science, to effectively understanding trauma, the Humanities allows us to reflect on a variety of issues from a variety of viewpoints, giving us the context to form our own understanding. And because the humanities is so broad, we are able to form connections between the specific examples we discussed and the issues we see in modern life. By reflecting on the moral failures of the past, we can seek out and stop the injustices of the present. By examining the changes undergone by systems of art (such as the development of abstractionism or the alterations of musical system) or science and technology, we can better understand how those subjects exist today, and how they can be developed even further. The goal of the Humanities is to allow us to develop ourselves and our understanding of the world.

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These notes were taken from a lecture given by Professor Quillen about the disparity between truth and some accepted narratives, such as the Enlightenment being considered a bastion of free thinking while simultaneously enacting repressive colonialist policies. In these notes are questions and potential solutions central to the goal and content of the Humanities.