What Are the Arts & Humanities?

If you say you want to study the Arts, most people will have no problem understanding what you’re talking about. They know that your work could end up in museums or on the stage, and might include painting, sculpture, music, theater and dance.

But the Humanities are trickier to define, because a wide range of very different fields can all be gathered under this wide umbrella.

Take a look at our Arts & Humanities homepage.

Just think about it: What are the similarities between English literature and archaeology? Or between comparative religion and film studies? These are all examples of fields within the Humanities, but on the surface, they don’t seem to have much in common.

According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Humanities are “disciplines of memory and imagination, telling us where we have been and helping us envision where we are going.”

A simpler way of saying it might be that the Humanities are the subjects that deal with what it means to be human and on the uniquely human ways we experience the world.

Fields of Study in the Arts & Humanities

With that broad definition, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a huge variety of degrees available in the Arts and Humanities. A few examples of the major areas of study include:

  • Archaeology
  • Comparative religion
  • History
  • Literature, languages and writing
  • Media and communications studies
  • Performing arts
  • Philosophy
  • Visual and studio art

This list covers a lot of ground, and it’s just the beginning; the Arts and Humanities also include specializations like ethnomusicology, classical civilization, and Middle Eastern studies.

We’ve ranked some of the best Arts & Humanities degrees available, including the Best Online Graphic Design Degrees.

Benefits of an Arts & Humanities Degree

A degree in the Arts and Humanities will give you a great foundation for a lot of different careers. Students who study these disciplines learn to think critically, to express themselves clearly, and to analyze new information. These qualities lead to a high degree of professional flexibility and adaptability.

You’ll also be well positioned to pursue graduate-level education if you want to, since many of the skills learned in the Arts and Humanities have applications that cross disciplines. For example, if you get a bachelor’s degree in history, you could go on to study law, library science, or education.

STEM Fields and the Arts & Humanities

But what about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)? Aren’t these fields where the jobs are?

The truth is that the Arts and Humanities and STEM disciplines are complementary.

Where there is a scientific breakthrough, there is a need for writers to break it down for the people who will be impacted by the discovery. When an engineer creates a revolutionary new product, there is a need for artists to illustrate the ways to use it. And when a startup develops new technology, they often need filmmakers and animators to create customer tutorials.

In 1965, the United States Congress passed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, which stated, “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”

Even way back then, Congress understood the importance of education in the Arts & Humanities – both for its own sake, and to help people evaluate and interact with our ever-changing world.