What Are the Humanities and What Types Can You Major In?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 30, 2022 | Published September 29, 2021

Updated March 30, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The field of the humanities covers a large scope of studies concerning people, places and society throughout history and the modern day. Students of the humanities often learn how to think critically about important topics and develop a foundational skill set they can apply in various career paths to succeed professionally.

If you're a current or prospective student of the humanities, you may benefit from learning more about this field. In this article, we explain the humanities, the benefits of pursuing it, what majors and skills are available to students in this field and the roles students often pursue post-graduation.

Related: 13 Careers in Humanities To Explore

What are the humanities?

The humanities are a field through which academics study society, humans and their work. This field often takes a critical approach in understanding humanity, events in the past and present-day, art, religion, ethics, cultural phenomena, traditions and values.

With this, the humanities cover a wide scope of topics regarding the various cultural perspectives of different geographical areas, communities and time periods. The humanities exist not only as a way for academics to document human activity and societies, but to also consider the ways people connect with one another and address the challenges faced by people throughout history.

Students of the humanities and academics who work in this field often pursue interdisciplinary studies that allow them to think critically about the various intersecting concepts that have shaped societies over generations.

Without a clearly delineated central discipline, those who pursue the humanities often have varying professional interests and unique approaches in their work. Therefore, the field is often defined by comparing it to other, more straightforward academic programs of study, like mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences and business, that train students through specific professional development pathways.

Related: What Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

What types of majors are available for students of the humanities?

There are various majors that students of the humanities can pursue. Some students of the humanities choose to earn degrees in interdisciplinary programs that combine the studies of multiple topics, while others focus their efforts on studying a sole discipline.

In addition, combining art and humanities disciplines is common among humanities students, so there are many options to choose from when considering this academic route. Here are some of the most common majors students of the humanities pursue:

  • Art history

  • English literature

  • Religious studies

  • Linguistics

  • Music

  • Visual art

  • Performing arts

  • Philosophy

  • Classics

  • History

  • Anthropology

  • Ancient and modern languages

  • Human geography

  • Law

  • Dance

  • Communications

Related: 10 Benefits of Earning Your Degree From a Liberal Arts College

What skills can students learn from humanities courses?

Students of the humanities often learn a wide variety of soft and technical skills, depending on the exact discipline they choose to pursue. Here are a few examples of foundational skills that most humanities students develop over the course of their study, regardless of their major:

  • Writing: Students of the humanities often hone their writing skills through assignments like crafting essays and persuasive presentations. Through these tasks, humanities students typically learn how to form effective arguments, communicate complex ideas to a variety of audiences and write convincingly.

  • Research: Since humanities students typically write papers and perform their own research, they often become deft researchers by the end of their academic tenure. Humanities students can learn how to analyze source material, identify meaningful information and draw conclusions they can present in their own work.

  • Analysis: Regardless of their particular major or course of study, humanities students often learn how to analyze information and form arguments using the details they observe. Most humanities majors hone these skills through critical analyses of qualitative sources like literature, speeches, language, historical documents and art.

  • Critical thinking: One of the most important skills learned by humanities students is the ability to think critically. These students often must approach their work with a critical perspective as they analyze a variety of sources, distill the information they absorb and craft intelligible arguments that persuade others of their ideas.

  • Creativity: Humanities students commonly develop a high capacity for creativity through their studies. These students typically learn how to think with innovation, identify gaps in existing information and generate unique solutions for closing those gaps.

Related: 25 Humanities Jobs With a High Salary

What roles can humanities students pursue after graduation?

Humanities students often pursue different roles depending on their particular interests, as this field of study doesn't necessarily prepare graduates for specific career paths like preprofessional tracks do. Despite this, humanities majors have a variety of career options to pursue post-graduation as their skills apply to the needs of organizations in various industries. Here are a few examples of roles that humanities students may secure after graduation:

  • Professor

  • Teacher

  • Translator

  • Interpreter

  • Historian

  • Copywriter

  • Technical writer

  • Editor

  • Marketing manager

  • Journalist

  • Art director

  • Publisher

  • Researcher

  • Lawyer

  • Curator

  • Grant writer

  • Development specialist

  • Linguist

  • Archivist

Related: 13 Jobs for Humanities Majors

What are the benefits of earning a humanities degree?

There are many benefits to earning a humanities degree. Here are some of those benefits explained to help you gain perspective and decide whether this path is right for you:

  • Varied approaches: Humanities students can approach their degrees through a variety of majors and interdisciplinary combinations. These varied approaches often help humanities majors to forge their own unique perspectives about certain topics, which can be a significant benefit while in school and post-graduation.

  • Essential skills development: Through humanities programs, students often develop essential soft and hard or technical skills they can apply to roles in various industries. Competencies in writing, research, critical thinking and analysis can help humanities majors succeed in many professional environments.

  • Wide array of professional opportunities: Because of the wide application of their skills and the varied approaches they take in their studies, humanities students frequently have a wide set of professional opportunities available to them post-graduation. For instance, English literature majors often pursue roles in fields like education, marketing, communications, law and journalism.

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