What is Humanities (capital-H)? Humanities is the discussion of the humanities within an academic setting. It is most often used when within the world of academia and is also our course itself. Furthermore, it is the categorical approach to the study of human society and culture, as it is discussed by study fields that address these topics directly.
What is humanities (lower-case-h)? humanities is an overarching term that engulfs a variety of concepts. Although including Humanities (the academia approach) within it, humanities (lower-case) also touches on the past, present, and future; it discusses the where we have been and the where we are going— and how we can communicate such ideas. Moreover, humanities has a direct correlation with empathy and relating to others and society around us.
When we come to stating what Humanities (capital-H) is, we must be reminded that definitions are nothing more than a conceptual schema. It is an agreed upon meaning of a set of letters, but what’s to say the word means something different? Who’s to say that the cow is pink and the pig is what with black spots? The dictionary where we, people, humanity, have written what we determine something is. Everyone has their own truth, which causes the idea of truth to be a grey area. Each persons’ beliefs cause a definition to, perhaps, change slightly because their personal approach and past experiences differ from another. This leads to saying what (H/h)umanities is that much harder. Humanities is a constructed fact, and it depends on our beliefs, theories, concepts, and conventions to choose what falls under this term. Since dealing with the world of academia, Humanities engulfs a world of academic fields, yet at Davidson history is not included as a Humanities course; instead, it is a social science. Yet in most definitions, history is included under Humanities as a study. These are slight differences that cause Humanities to be more limited as the study of human society and culture under academic fields that address these topics. When looking at the contrast between Humanities and humanities, we must understand that Humanities is within academia, and humanities is the actual relating of human society, culture, and how this interaction includes the past, present, and future. It is humanity in full, rather than the study, examination, and critical thinking of it.
Although spelled the same, the difference in capitalization of the “h” leads to a significant difference in meaning. One is a subset of the other, and so discussing the umbrella term “humanities” seems like the best way to start. In brief discussion during Dr. Robb’s keynote lecture in Sapere Aude was the discussion of empathy as a core part of humanities. We saw this supported by the workshop where we Humsters were paired up and told our partners about a time where we felt excluded. We employed practices that Augusto Boal teaches for theatre, where we used our bodies to represent the words we desired to say. In the case of our workshop, the words were said (by ourselves or our partner), but we had to respond to the story we were told with a bodily stance and then movement. We had to empathize by finding one word to represent our partner’s entire story, and use our bodies to convey the narrative. This was humanities; this was empathy at work, a key part to humanities and to building humanity.
Within ourselves and society (we hope) is humanity, and within humanity we find human dignity— a respect for ourselves, but also a respect that others have for us. By thinking of human dignity in this way, it is something that is within our control, but also something that can be taken away from us. When we look to Beyoncé with Lemonade, we interpret the human dignity that was stolen from Africans taken from Africa through the locations that Beyoncé chose. The Cape Castles represented the final screams of the kidnapped Africans; the plantations houses signified the oppression placed on Black people. Even so, Beyoncé restores some level of dignity to Black women and the Black community and empowers the community through her visual album. It is through these histories, and using the the past to understand people today. The humanities is this understanding of the past and the relevancy to today in human society and culture. Moreover, it is the understanding of how this history impacts our future. Sarah Baartman had human dignity for herself; she valued herself, her beliefs, and her life. We can glean this from the fact that she wanted to do well by her family and go earn money and make it big; furthermore, we can draw this conclusion because she said no. She said no to the things she did not approve of. Here, we also see human dignity taken, as I state can occur since it is a two-way street. Baartman had her dignity taken as her owner did not value her to the same level as she did herself. Rather, her boss valued what she meant: money. There was no respect nor care for her, her values or morals, nor her human spirit. The humanities looks into this relationship of cultures and social interactions and how these pasts bleed into the present and impact the future. Additionally, the stories spark empathy within many and evoke a desire to seek change. The humanities has a core foundational block of empathy, and it comes because of the humanity within it. Each person has their own humanity, just like they have their own personal truth.
[Here I would like to discuss how we implicate ourselves into past-presents. In terms of how we witness the past and touch on it in the present. I also plan to discuss that the humanities is a living archive since it is always changing and evolving. Unlike the Humanities which is academic-based, humanities adapts with the world as cultures change, human and societal interactions change, etc.; a continually piece— even during change— is empathy. See page two for more of this outlined.
For more on what I plan to continue with for defining “(H/h)umanities, as this definition I find myself pondering more and more and rewriting way too many times, see page two.]