Throughout this first semester at Davidson I have been enrolled in Humanities 103/104 but what exactly are the h/Humanities?
I will begin with the broader question concerned with the capital H, Humanities? To answer this question I have to think back to the first day of Humes. Although, we had the pre-orientation still to this point I had no idea what this class was going to cover. In my other classes such as Multi-variable Calculus, it is evident the day you sign up for the class what it is going to be about, this wasn’t the case for Humes. However, as I sat in the beautiful Hance Auditorium for the first time, I distinctly remember President Quillen remarking “What is the human experience?” An although on my first day I didn’t quite know what this meant but this quote has stuck with the whole year and symbolizes what Humanities is to me. Throughout the rest of the units I was constantly asking myself what does this say about the nature of humans? This led to think the purpose of the Humanities is to uncover what it means to be human, what are the characteristics that make us different, what makes us human? To answer this question, the Humanities are constantly trying to uncover the threads across time and cultures that connect our experiences. This can be seen in our course when the professors have urged us to make connections across the units despite the fact that the topics we have covered are very different from each other.
In my Unit 1 paper, I connected the rhetoric of Karl Marx’s philosophies of Industrial oppression to the observations of Frantz Fanon of the oppression of blacks in the Antilles. I used their similar rhetoric to describe the psychological commonalities of human oppression whether it be wage slavery or chattel slavery. Another example, is during the during Unit 3 we discussed the Rwandan Genocide and what it means to bear witness to violence and how do we examine the suffering of others. During Unit 8, the artifact was an abstract image of Ulrike Meinhof’s body after she committed suicide. We discussed how this abstraction affected how the viewer would regard the painting of such a sensitive image. Through the artifact of Unit 8, we were able to comment on how humans reaction to violence differs from the actual body to an abstract representation.
The emphasis on this aspect of the course has demonstrated to me that the Humanities is eager to examine what are the common threads of humanity through different mediums, locations, and time periods. In that same lecture, President Quillen further inquired “Is this human experience the same across all groups, cultures, race, etc.” Has the human experience been consistent throughout history or varied by time period, culture, or race. Throughout much of the course, we discussed how different groups have been excluded from rights that are seen as inherent to all humans. For example, in Unit 4 we examined African American’s nonviolent protest to gain rights that had been denied to them for over 300 years. Additionally, throughout all the units, especially 1 and 5, we have discussed the female experience. Throughout history, we have seen how males have imposed stereotypes on what the typical female experience should be. In Uncle Toms Cabin/The Promise Land, we saw how the different Elizas tried to represent different aspects of the female experience that broke from these typical stereotypes of women. Given these difference in the rights and experiences of different groups, how can we determine what it means to be human?
Through this contrast we see my definition of Humanities: a field that tries to make sense of the commonalities and differences of what it means to be human through examining human culture and the human experience (in fields of art, literature,history,etc.) My definition tries to ignore the semantics of the world Humanities and get more at what someone in studying the Humanities would study.
If the Humanities if this broader category of the class concerned with connections, the lower case humanities is our human response to what we experience in our interactions with the world and society. The humanities are niche aspects of how we interact with the world. I believe the humanities can be boiled down into language, history, politics, and the other fields the whole course Humanities covers.
For example, from this course in Unit 2 we examined how different populations have different conceptual schemes that shape how they view the world. We also examined how languages can affect conceptual schemes. This demonstrates how different groups make sense of the world and whether there is this attainable “truth” out there. These differing conceptual schemes are an example of the humanities because they only examine how one group creates meaning from their experience and world. The Humanities of Unit 2, would instead examine how these differences in conceptual schemes have affected human communication, and try to determine how we as humans are able to have so many differing perspectives of “truth” and “meaning.”In Unit 6, we can also see a distinction between humanities and the Humanities. In this unit, we saw artists like Jackson Pollack break from artistic realism to paint reality as he saw it. The humanities of this unit would be concerned with Pollack’s view of the world and how his interpretations effect his art. Humanities, on the other hand would examine the commonalities and differences of abstraction across the abstract movement.
The humanities is simply how we experience the world and express it in our everyday life while the Humanities examines how the experiences interact and affect each other