What Are The Humanities?

What are the Humanities?

In 1965, the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act defined the “humanities” as… 

includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life. 

 By traditional definition, the humanities are those academic disciplines that study human society and culture. 

Those disciplines include: American Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architectural History and Criticism, Cultural Studies, Economics, Ethics, Ethnic Studies, Folklore, Geography, History, Historic and Ethics of Science and Technology, International Studies, Jurisprudence, Language and Linguistics, Literature, Music History and Criticism, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion and Comparative Religion, Sociology, Theatre History and Criticism, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. 

But really, what are the humanities? 

The humanities help us understand human history, culture, communities, and beliefs. In the humanities, we explore how people have created their world and how they in turn have been formed by the world around them.  The humanities are critical, speculative, and reflective. They help us to understand our lives and the lives of others. 

…so how is that different from the arts? 

We’re so glad you asked! Both the arts and the humanities are part of what it means to be human and can be very closely intertwined. 

The arts are the expression of human creativity.  The arts are inventive and aesthetic.  

The humanities are the reflection on the human experience.  They contextualize and examine.  

The arts can be a tool in the humanities when they are used to help us understand a human experience.   

My organization is thinking about applying for one of your grants, can you give me an example of arts versus the humanities? 

Delaware Humanities cannot fund the creation or performance of art, creative writing, autobiographies or memoirs, or creative nonfiction (among other things – see our grant requirements).  If you are making something new or conducting a performance with artistic license, that work cannot be funded. 

For example, while we love the musical Hamilton, we could not fund its performance because it is a creative piece and is a performing art. However, if an individual was giving a first-person presentation as Alexander Hamilton, that could be funded.  Why? Because first person interpretations do not take creative license with the material – they do not present any information that is not known and do not alter the personality or stylizations of the historic figure. 

As another example, we could not fund a performance and workshop on how to create an interpretive dance, because that is creating something new and conducting a performance.  However, we could fund an exhibit and panel discussion on interpretive dance, because it is contextualization of and reflection on the medium. An exhibit and panel discussion would reflect on interpretative dance, rather than create interpretative dance, and could therefore receive humanities funding. 

My organization is thinking about requesting one of your program resources, can you give me an example how they could be used?

Our resources are created to encourage reflecting on the human experience. Programs like Speakers and Exhibits are more traditional lecture and museum experiences, while programs like Community Conversations and Toolkits are customizable and driven by audience interaction and thought-provoking conversation.

Just like our grants, customizable programs are still humanities-driven experiences. For example, a Delaware Humanities Facilitator could not lead a workshop where participants create paintings for their community, but could facilitate a community conversation on the impact of art in public spaces.

We encourage anyone using our customizable programs to best serve the needs of their community.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our staff