HUMANities: Study of Us


Noah R. Mincheff, Opinion Editor

The most defining aspect of a human-being is introspection. 

Our ability to evaluate our societies, analyze our behavior and look inside ourselves sets us apart from the animal kingdom in a powerful way. As a student of the humanities, I find that losing sight of my work’s purpose can be quite easy in the fog of stress, coffee and sleeplessness. A good balance is important, so make sure that you have enough income to cover the nights out with friends and maybe allow you to borrow a little less in loans. Be reasonable because retaking classes and tacking on an extra semester is expensive, so leave enough study time as well.

Our work produces far fewer tangible products than that of an engineer or a pharmacist, but just as their work is an integral part of our society, so is ours. As a historian, my discipline interprets previous humans to inform the present and future, but in practice, what I do is seek to understand those who came before us. An anthropologist, on the other hand, may seek to understand those in the present and a linguist may seek to surpass language barriers between peoples. All humanities disciplines culminate into an ongoing study of humans, from mankind’s entirety, down to our individual selves throughout recorded time.

STEM is the path to power, but the humanities are the path to control and understanding. Without those brave souls in physics, medicine and mathematics (numbers scare me), we would live in darkness. We would lack the physical infrastructure to develop and share ideas between one another, but what good are electricity, advanced construction and high-tech weaponry without the social structure to bring order to their use?

Those who study sociology and political science seek to master and constantly improve forms of government, society, and law to maintain stability in our lives and ensure the responsible use of powerful technology. Omit any one of these disciplines and mankind has naught but chaos.

The world can’t run solely on politicians, physicists and doctors though; our societies must have form as well as function. What is a life lived in stability, order and efficiency absent of culture, abstract thought and inquiry? As our social structures and technology ward against chaos, they afford us the privilege of abstract thought, or in other words: the arts. Literature, history, painting, sculpture, film – these disciplines bring beauty and richness to our societies. As technology and social structure are platforms for survival, art is a platform for expression and understanding.

Art helps us understand ourselves and relate to others, history informs our present thought and identity and literature tells the tales of a people. Together, the arts define the identity of our demographics and form our traditions in both the subtlest and the boldest of ways. The dyed and checkered tartans of Scotland are equal parts practical — their thick wool a shield against the cold rains of their land — and expressive — the colors and patterns are simply style to some, but proudly declare clan identity to the informed. Japanese kakejiku (hanging scrolls) display cultural elements of all kinds, from poetry to historical scenes. This distinctly Japanese medium collectively tells the stories of hundreds of years of Japanese people. 

While specific art mediums form the identities of various demographics, in the broadest of terms, art forms the identity of all mankind. Whether the piece is a Viking Saga or a beautifully woven poncho from Latin America, these creations define us as human. Without physical science, the animal kingdom hopelessly outmatches us. Without the social sciences, our power destroys us. Without the arts, we do not know who we are.