Humanities Definition

When I was thinking about what to write about for my definition of humanities I wasn’t sure where to begin. I class we talked about how the humanities can be defined by talking about different topics and allowing our different views to come together. The humanities themselves study different aspects of humans in terms of culture and society. Unlike the sciences, there is often no right or wrong answer. For this reason, there is a large emphasis on the insight of an individual being valued and for that reason rather than explicitly defining the humanities, I will share my personal gain from this course as it relates to my overall understanding of the humanities.

Before coming to Davidson, I had thought of the humanities as merely English or History courses. They were courses that I felt I could understand and I enjoyed them. There was no debate about the humanities, we would learn something in class and everyone would accept it as general knowledge. When arriving at Davidson I began to realize that I did not fully understand the humanities at all. I have found now that part of my understanding is that each unit has acted like a small piece of a puzzle, each of which is constantly adding to my knowledge of the humanities. Through every unit, I have learned how broad the humanities are. I have also realized how oblivious I have been to the things going on around me, the history and violence that occurs around me which I have never paid attention to. The humanities have forced me to acknowledge that I should be aware of things that are beyond my control even if they do not affect me. This has been a reoccurring message to me in each unit but I found it especially prevalent in Unit 3.

During Unit 3 we learned about the Rwandan Genocide, which I had never learned about before and I was frighteningly almost unaware of. This unit leads to a growth and awareness about this topic and an understanding of myself. I feel as though my understanding of the humanities is represented in this poem that I chose after the Rwandan unit when we were transitioning into the poetry in Unit 4.

We Lived Happily During the War
By Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.

I wanted to share this poem because it defines how I felt during the Rwandan unit. I felt that I often do not pay attention to the war or violence around me because I live happily during this time because I am not affected. Also the fact that America is referenced further connected me to the poem because as referenced in the poem, I live in the “great country of money.” This poem relates to the ideas of Sontag and Gourevitch such as what right do we have to learn about these stories or photographs because they “ are a means of making ‘real’ matters that the privileges and the merely safe might prefer to ignore.” (Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, 7)
This unit made me reevaluate what the humanities are. They are much more than subjects combined. They are peoples stories of history and violence that come together to form an understanding of the past that some of us ignored or some of us were not alive for. Humanities encompass the beauty and values of other cultures and show how history is made as well as preserved. The humanities allow us to question but also understand the world around us.
My definition of the humanities has grown based on my furthered understanding. The humanities are established through people coming together across cultures and creating a voice, to share an event or create a voice for people that died and no longer have one. It is sharing our knowledge of the arts, history, cultures, and people. Sharing facts and our interpretations of events combined with stories and back up by books. It is understanding the humans are constantly evolving and changing. It is understanding that there is violence in the world going on around us and we must not accept it but be aware of it. It is preventing ignorance through sharing pictures and stories to establish some form of understanding, even if the people that did not experience the violence will never fully be able to understand. The humanities expose humans to the world around us and it challenges us to make sense of the past to learn for the future.

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