The humanities vs. the Humanities

Throughout the year, we sought to distinguish the humanities from its proper form, the Humanities. 


The humanities

The humanities has much to do with the human condition. It is a shared experience of conscious existence. During Professor Quillen’s unit, we learned that the humanities confronts us with difficult questions, such as

What does it mean to be human?

What qualities separate us from other animals?

Can you reduce the whole identity to a fundamental belonging?

Notes from Professor Quillen’s Opening Lecture

Though we tend to try to categorize people based on one of their traits, whether that be race, gender, nationality, etc., the human identity cannot be reduced in such a way. This habit of thinking is deeply rooted in all of us, and it reduces the identity to a single belonging, giving way to stereotypes. Human dignity is non-negotiable, but these patterns of labeling put others’ humanities out of reach. When we deny someone of their humanity, we are capable of disastrous things, as seen in Rwanda with genocide, Russia with Stalin’s Terror, Germany with the rise of the Red Army Faction, and the United States with slavery and lynchings. 

The Humanities

The Humanities enables us to study the humanities and supplies us with the exposure that we need in order to answer the questions that the humanities raise. It pertains to both the study of documented human experience and the study of how people document this shared experience. The Humanities does not study all human experience; only that which has been documented. Professor Robb spoke about the difficulties underlying documentation. Meanings of original texts can get lost in translation. Fidelity in the translation of individual words can almost never fully reproduce the sense they had in the original. In this sense, truth is lost in translation, making it more difficult to document the human experience. Also, the truth surrounding knowledge and experience is often hard to determine. People who document human experience impose their own conceptual schemes on the world, and thus the world of facts may be harder to determine. 

Notes from Dr. Robb’s Closing Lecture

Professor Tamura touched upon this same idea of documentation. Wars are made more real to us (“us” being outsiders who have never experienced and therefore cannot relate to such an event) when we see photographs. Without some kind of documentation, we have no way of knowing what occurred and therefore cannot study these undocumented instances of human experience. Documentation was also big in Professor Wills’s unit. In every page in the comic book March: Book Two, news media was present. In Professor Bory’s unit, we learned that performance is unique in its disappearing nature. When the performance is over, it is gone, and recordings, like translations, never can produce the same effect as the original.

It is through the Humanities that we can make sense of human experience. In order to do so, we must recognize the dual nature of knowledge and experience. These both have aspects of truth, but they are also inextricably linked with the conceptual schemes that we compose on the world. The Humanities makes us more aware of the different conceptual schemes at play and can aid us in determining what aspects of human experience are due to the world of facts versus our conceptual schemes.