Second edition

Why Study Humanities: Confessions of a Humanities Major

Patrick Awuah, Jr. after studying at Swarthmore College then subsequently working for Microsoft for almost a decade, decided to go back to his home country, Ghana, to start a liberal arts college. He believes that in order to educate the future leaders, humanities studies and liberal arts subjects must be in their main curriculum. Why? Because these subjects teach skills that help develop the personality of leaders: value systems, problem-solving ability, and communication skills.

This is a man who believes humanities majors will shape the future.

So, will I shape the future? Confessions of a Humanities major

Kim future 1

Kim, Ya-ting Yang│kimyating918@gmail.com

Here comes the first confession. Yes, I studied Humanities for 6 years.

And as a result, I became a generalist. After years of training in English literature, cultural studies then political science, I’m simply interested in way too many things that I can hardly focus on only one specific field. Besides, I was trained to be interested in almost everything during my studies. However, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a waste to be focusing on only one field:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

– Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973)

It seems as if multi-tasking has long been the privilege of being a human. Despite this, I’ve often asked myself the very same question: What am I going to do with my Humanities degree?

Second confession: Well, I was clueless.

After the Euroculture program, like most people, I needed a job. I was immediately faced with the dilemma of diving into the world of academia or putting on suits and smiles to make a living in this capitalistic society. I went to every free conference in town whether they were hosted by Universities or NGOs. I downloaded all kinds of random papers on social studies trying to find one field that I wanted to delve into when I still had my student ID to enter the school’s database. I listened to TED talk with entrepreneurs sharing their never-ending struggle, yet successful life stories. I went up to speakers after conferences and tried to reflect their experiences on myself. Every one of these occasions seemed to create the realisation in my mind that I can probably pursue others’ tracks as my own.

As I tried to lay down the pros and cons of all options, reality struck me that I simply can’t concentrate on doing only one thing for the rest of my life. I think many would agree that a PhD sounds too much of a commitment. And with the statistic against you – only about 50% finish – it seemed like a good thing not to do.

The world around me seems to be getting more and more specialized, you can easily find on the internet obscure academic papers that have under 100 counts of circulation. People’s job titles are getting more specific and filled with too many adjectives to fit on that small piece of business card. All these specification made a knot in my stomach because I can’t seem to find one thing that I can pull off for a very long time.

Third confession: I struggled to find the meaning of being a Humanities major.

Despite all these doubts, I tried to find the “usefulness” of humanities studies. By usefulness, I mean how humanities studies can help me achieve what I want in life. Then came the purpose-searching journey. For me, humanities studies are embodied in communication and therefore link us to everyone in the society; it is essentially how human beings interact with one another.

What we’ve learned in Humanities can be difficult to describe, because it might not be a tangible professional expertise. It is, however, something more profound, something that stays with you wherever you go and can be applied to any field at anytime. Here are the examples.

We’re taught to be sensitive to the world around us, we are taught to constantly find different perspectives, we’re taught to be tolerant and accept the possibility of diversities. We are also really good at solving problems from many perspectives. This is the power and strength of studying humanities and being a generalist, we study human interactions that are embodied in literature, politics, media, and social studies.

And this also applies to me. Humanities studies allowed me to see the world from different perspectives, to sympathize, to be flexible, and to accept multiple possibilities, as well as the possibility to express myself through words, through images, through speeches. And yes, these are the skills that will help me shape the future.

So here comes the last confession.

What a privilege it is to study humanities!

Kim future 2

To get more insights on the topic of Humanities, also read The Beasts of the Field

KimKim, Ya-ting Yang, Contributing writer

Grew up in Taiwan, majored in Foreign Languages and Literature, Kim chose to fly to Groningen and Bilbao to be a Euroculturer. After her internship in Barcelona, she is now working in the advertising industry in Frankfurt, Germany. She is also organizing the Humani[t]ies Perspective conferences with other EMA fellow students. Kim is interested in way too many things to write them all here in the bio, but for the moment she is very intrigued by how the digital world is influencing how we communicate.

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Categories: Second edition, Your Story

3 replies »

  1. It’s important to note, however, that people who are attracted to the field of humanities tend to be (already) quite sensitive, tolerant, and open to diverse perspectives, so it seems more appropriate to say that the Humanities enhance such predispositions rather teaching them. Another point I’d like to add- Euroculture is a particularly ‘generalist’ study within the realm of Humanities, which means that upon graduation you could potentially do everything, and yet might lack appropriate knowledge in the area of EU policy/law, communications, cultural studies, etc. (sharing the experience of how you proved to your employer that you possessed the necessary skills could be very useful!). In line with this, my recommendation to the currently studying Euroculturers out there is to focus on a particular topic or area (compatible with the programme), and to be very consistent in your research and group projects.

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