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Humanities Today Essay

The academic discipline known as humanities is the study of how man interprets the world around him. The study of humanities has been around since mankind began investigating and questioning the world they lived in. According to the article “What are the Humanities?”(2000), when the National Endowment for the Humanities was established in 1964, Congress created the following definition of humanities which included the study of:history; literature; philosophy and ethics; foreign languages and cultures; linguistics; jurisprudence or philosophy of law; archeology; comparative religion; the history, theory, and criticism of the arts; and those aspects of the social sciences.

In this definition the key point for distinguishing humanities from other modes of human inquiry is the fact that humanities are based on historical and expressive interpretation rather than theory and logic. Humanities inquire about the human’s interpretation of his or her surroundings. The inquiries come from the general population or an individual’s own expression of human reaction to historical events and the way that it is expressed through art, science, politics, literature, music, architecture, and religion. Other modes of human inquiry are based off of proven facts and scientific theories. A person’s interpretation has little to do with science (What are the Humanities, 2000).

ArtOne of the more controversial ways that the arts have been affected by modern humanities is the showcasing of human bodies as art. An exhibition called Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS: The Original Exhibition of Real Human Bodies is now touring the United States. This exhibition displays human bodies that have been plasticized, doing various normal human activities. Some displays have cadavers in the middle of making a shot in basketball, while others displays a family sitting around a kitchen table. In this day of rapid technological advances, it is sometimes hard to distinguish pure art from criminal activity.

At fist glance most people are amazed to see that technology has allowed a concept like this to be possible. Many people feel that there is much to be learned about the human body through this display of art. On the other hand many people are outraged by the exhibit calling it a denigration of the human spirit. Others have called it a criminal act. The companies that process these human bodies are currently being investigated by the U.S. government. Many fingers have been pointed at China for having a black market for cadavers. No one knows for sure how the companies even come across so many cadavers and if the person’s permission was given. One thing is for sure that this form of “art” represents the mind set of the world today. This tiny fraction of the art world represents the change in religious beliefs, technology, and artistic expression today (Cattani, 2008).

MusicMusic is definitely an area that changes through the attitudes and expression of past generations, especially in the African-American community. During the time of slavery music was a way for slaves to capture some of the heritage that was so violently taken away from them. Similar to musicians today, one of the way slaves used music was as a way to express the way they felt about the environment around them. Many songs from those days represented oppression and sorrow. Some other songs represented times of joy or the hope of overcoming oppression. Slaves also used music for celebration, communication, and mourning (Slave Songs, n.d.).

Today’s African-American community still uses music in some of the same ways. Times have changed. Slavery has been abolished but from slavery there arose racial separatism, feelings of hate between the races, and distrust of Caucasians by other races. This is where the harshness and intentionally angry voice of “gangsta rap” is derived. This genre of music is an outlet for young African American males to voice the inequality and unjust behaviors that they feel from society.

ArchitectureFrank Lloyd Wright is one the foremost fathers of modern American architecture. He believed that past methods for architecture were relied too heavily. Wright made it a point to reject the 19th century European architecture that people were used to. His style was attributed to the blocks he played with as a child and from modern Japanese architecture. Since the world was going through a new industrial period, Wright felt is was necessary to include materials that emphasized the world around him. He began to use materials such as steel and glass in his architecture. Open floor plans with few walls separating rooms were also a turn from traditional architecture (Modern Architecture, 2007).

PhilosophyOne of the noted pioneers of modern philosophy is John Dewey. Among other branches of philosophy, Dewey was relentless on the subject of experimental education. Dewey believed that the current method of education was more concerned with feeding children information rather then learning from the child’s experiences. Dewey believed that it is the educator’s responsibility to facilitate learning in a way which accounts for each student’s uniqueness. Today, many school philosophies are still based on Dewey’s theory of experience (Neill, 2005).

LiteratureThe information age has had a lasting effect on modern literature. Through T.V., the internet, and the media information is capable of being exchanged over long distances in a very short period of time. Mankind has shown a hunger for information in modern years. In the 21st century literature related to true events have become very popular. Because of this, the status of celebrities has somewhat fallen. The people who used to be held as iconic figures have become as human as everyone else today. Instead of the imaginative fiction literary works that used to be the norm, today autobiographies and tabloid magazines are flying off the shelves. The situation only reflects the information driven society from which it comes.

The study of humanities is an ever changing journey. Humanities will changes with the questions and expression about every generation to come. Humanities are unique in that a quest for the purpose and meaning of the human life is being sought. As time goes on, the study of humanities will be become broader, taking with it all the questions of yesterday.


Cattani, T. (2008). Human cadavers on display…as an attraction?. Retrieved February 22, 2008,from Living Lake Country Web site: http://community.livinglakecountry.com/blogs/from_another_side/archive/2008/02/15/human-cadavers-on-display-as-an-attraction.aspxModern Architecture, (2007). Retrieved February 22, 2008, from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia Web site:

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