Humanities: to define is to confine
Can we really define “Humanities”? Perhaps not, but we can, at the very least, attempt to narrow in on an idea.
The Humanities are the study of humans, past and present, and what humans have done and do. One could argue that this would encompass all academic disciplines, including the sciences, because, after all, humans invented the sciences. In a way, the Humanities do encompass the sciences, but approaches them from a humanistic perspective. Humanists would study the scientists themselves, their lives, how they worked. Thus, the Humanities must overlap with the sciences at times.
As I ponder a definition for the Humanities, I find that, to try to define it/them too specifically can only be constricting and limiting to the vast, sprawling universe that is the Humanities.
To Davidson students, Humanities means something very specific. Yet even in the context of the Davidson Humanities Course, Humanities means something different to every student. To one student it means “the class that captured my heart and sparked my interest in literary analysis,” to another it is “that thing my first-year roommate was always complaining about.” Even on the most logistical level, the Humanities program means many different things to the students who have taken part in it. Only three years ago, it was a four-semester course teaching western literature and history from Gilgamesh to The Beatles. Now it is a two-semester course with a dynamic, themed curriculum that encourages students to think outside the box and beyond the traditional classroom both in academic styles and in the ideas about which they are learning.
Even when Humanities means something as specific as a single class at Davidson College, only a very general description can both “define” and cover what Humanities means to each individual who has somehow experienced it.
Many seem to feel the need to draw a hard line between academic disciplines: to categorize them. But what is the value of a hard line? Why study one and exclude all others? The Humanities are inclusive, subjective, dynamic, and all-encompassing.