Humanities: A Useless Field?

Everywhere we look, technology appears in our sight. From our mode of communication to our mode of payment, technology has tapped even the most intricate part of our lives. In a world where technological innovation is rampant and STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics- is all the rage, where do the humanities fit in?

Traditionally looked at as an easier alternative to the fields of science and commerce, the

humanities have received little attention from the masses and have often been called

‘worthless’. This, however, wasn’t always the case. The humanities include disciplines that study human society and culture. Examples of this field include but are not limited to modern

languages, anthropology, literature, philosophy and art. The aim of humanities is not to secure a high paying job, rather, it allows individuals to cultivate themselves and better understand the society they live in. Humanities probe students to reason, to ask complex questions and to think critically and creatively. Learning about different cultures, histories and languages allows individuals to delve into worlds different from their own which invokes curiosity and introduces different perspectives. Despite these numerous benefits, why are humanities subjects undervalued?

To tackle this question let’s turn back the time to the 18th century. It’s no secret that the arts

were held on a very high pedestal centuries ago. The Renaissance, numerous exquisite pieces of art in museums, classical music and enriching literature are testament to the importance society gave to these wonderful simplicities of life. However, somewhere along the way our priorities shifted. The 18th Century marks this shift from the value given to the arts to our current system of education and way of life. As Adam Smith- the father of modern economics- has posited, the pursuit of wealth became a legitimate route to lead a happy and prosperous life in 18th century England. Due to colonisation and globalisation, other nations soon followed suit and embraced this practical, yet intellectually deficient, path.

What students look for now are useful degrees that will ensure they bag 9-5 jobs in sectors that may not truly interest them. Our definition of success as being positively correlated with wealth has only enhanced the race to follow this inert path. Technological change has laid great emphasis on the importance of natural sciences and the greed for capital has put commerce subjects in the spotlight as well. Fewer college students are opting for subjects like English which has plummeted by nearly 50% since the late 1990s.

Many consider humanities to be a dying, if not already dead, field that is better as a hobby than a legitimate career path. What people fail to recognise is how crucial understanding society is for any aspect of life. For example, the reason technology entices people is because of tech designers who craft innovations in a way that fulfil human wants and needs. This understanding of humans requires extensive knowledge of this so-called ‘useless’ field.

As Michelle Obama once stated, “The arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power -- to remind us of what we have to offer, and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future. To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.”

The humanities serve a deeper purpose than securing a job; they allow individuals to explore

themselves and the world around them. Understanding human experience lies at the core of our existence and the world as we know it would come crashing down without the deliberation on life’s fundamental questions that humanities’ subjects explore.

- By Sanyukta Singh

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