Oh, the Humanities! – Who Cares About Humanities and Social Sciences?

The “Mickey-Mouse courses,” the “fluffy concepts,” the “GPA boosters,” the “classes with all the hot girls”… or as you know might also know them, the humanities. Those artsy classes that only those theatre-types or cultural elitists understand. And then there are those social sciences, the kind that don’t deal with the real or hard sciences like chemistry or physics, but the unscientific ones like society and behavior. They don’t involve some of the hard choices that come from important fields of today like business and computer science. In fact, what good are the humanities anyways? And just who needs (or even likes) social sciences?

In today’s job market, positions are never guaranteed. Even when you get a degree in a specific field, you still might not be to find a job, and this is especially true in humanities. These may include language studies (modern and classical), linguistics, literature, history, philosophy, archaeology, religion, ethics, etc. Some people lump social sciences, humanities, and art together, while others call them different things. This article refers to all of them.

It’s a shame to see people going through a degrees in something like philosophy, history, and cultural studies, to come out with absolutely no idea of how to utilize their education. This is why many universities, especially in the UK, have been asked to significantly cut funds to arts, humanities, and social sciences in recent years, leading many to publicly defend these studies, while others have even quit because of those cuts.

In the Netherlands, 30 courses in the humanities are now being cut, including the country’s only Portuguese programme. Canada also saw more budget cuts to arts and humanities this year. In the US, one university president felt so strongly about humanities that she and her husband donated $100,000 to go towards scholarships for humanities students. And as reported a few months ago in the Guardian:

The number of degree courses on offer at British universities has been slashed by more than a quarter in the past six years, new research suggests.

It reveals that there are almost 20,000 fewer full-time undergraduate courses available now than there were in 2006.

The study, by the University and College Union (UCU) found cuts across a range of subjects, from the sciences, to arts and humanities.

In short, people do not value the humanities as much as many other areas of study. Or as experienced professors Ken Coates and Bill Morrison write in their book “Campus Confidential,” the social sciences and humanities don’t capture the public’s imagination like the applied sciences do. But they provide an persuasive argument for humanities and social sciences. It can be a thought-experiment, or you can actually do it…

Take a piece of paper and write 5-10 things that make you worry the most in the world, on one side. On the other side, write 5-10 things that bring you the greatest joy. Go ahead, write your answers if you’d like. This should take a minute or two (depending on how much thought you give this).

The typical responses for the worries include things like terrorism, climate change, an economic collapse, political uncertainty, religious conflict, globalization, rapid technological change, and maintaining a sustainable health care system. Typical responses for the positive things include their family and friends, church, music, theatre, movies, love and romance, sex, literature, community, shopping and recreation.

Now go over your list and circle all of the things that are studied by social scientists and people in humanities. Is there anything that isn’t circled?

So we like to believe that humanities social sciences are not nearly as significant as applied sciences, but they turn out to be the things that inform the aspects of our lives we consider important. As someone who personally studies psychology, I can also say that the knowledge we have gained from social science is constantly taken for granted. People don’t realize how much psychology is used in their lives, from getting people to stop smokingturn their music down or their mobile phones off.

But similar arguments can be made for things like dance, painting, and music as well. And if you need a little extra persuasion, allow Sir Ken Robinson to explain it to you in his legendary 2006 TED talk.

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