Value of the Humanities

The Humanities: Quo Vadis? Presented here are studies and arguments in favor of the humanities, as well as works highlighting their contributions to society and their deep meaning for us.


Book cover of Why We Need the Humanities, showing an open doorDonald Drakeman, Why We Need the Humanities (2016)
This book is an economic and practical exploration of the value of humanities, inspired by an Oxford study examining the contributions of its humanities graduates to the British economy. Drakeman argues that students of the humanities are not confined in their professional options, but instead contribute to (and are sought after in) fields considered outside the humanities, such as business and law.

Book cover of The Humanities in 2015, showing silhouettes of a crowd of people superimposed on a map of the worldMichael F. Shaughnessy, ed., The Humanities in 2015: Why We Need Them and How They Contribute to Being Human (2014)
Shaughnessy’s work is a collection of 12 essays authored by other academics attempting to resurrect the humanities and defend their relevance in the modern era. Topics include humanizing non-humanist fields, such as engineering, multicultural education and “The High School History Term Paper As an Introduction to the Humanities and Academic Rigor and Excellence.”

Book cover of The Value of the Humanities, showing a collage of books on a deskHelen H. Small, The Value of the Humanities (2013)
This work was written in the context of British questioning of governmental sponsorship for humanities scholarship, and to assert humanities “distinctive contributions to the public good.” Small argues that they provide a vehicle to study the meaning and making of culture, contribute to economic growth of a country, make us happier individually and collectively, serve to elevate understanding and thereby promote democracy, and are valuable for their own sake.

Book cover for Humanities in the Twenty-First Century, showing an art gallery where all the frames on the wall are emptyEleonora Belfiore and Ann Upchurch, Humanities in the Twenty-First Century: Beyond Utility and Markets (2013)
This collection of essays explores different ways in which the arts and humanities contribute to dealing with the challenges of contemporary society in ways that do not rely on socio-economic impact as a proxy for value.

Book cover for The Public Value of the Humanities, showing a book on an ornate column pedestalJonathan Bate, ed., The Public Value of the Humanities (2011)
Bate joins the conversation in the UK about whether or not the pursuit of the Humanities yields value in the age of recession. How do ‘economic impact’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ relate to one another: are they competitive or complementary?

Book cover for Why the Humanities Matter, showing an open book on a table

Frederick Luis Aldama, Why the Humanities Matter: A Commonsense Approach (2008)
Aldama considers whether or not postmodernism is indeed the death of the humanities or a rebirth of their relevance for the 21st century. Recalling the core pursuits of the humanities as beauty, truth and goodness, Aldama presents how the humanities are still our best approach to explore these values in the modern era.

Humanities in a Holistic Education

The Heart of the Matter (Report)
In 2011 the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences was established to investigate a question posed by Congress: how can America maintain excellence in humanities and social sciences teaching and research? The Heart of the Matter is the Commission’s report looking at the significance of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact (Report)
The findings of this study of 11,000 Oxford humanities graduates suggest that humanities students are not pigeonholed to the humanities forever thereafter. Significant proportions entered other careers, including finance, law and management positions, beyond the expected media, education and artistic career paths. Humanities students who entered these other fields were recruited for their ability to analyze problems, write persuasively and succinctly and consider the morality and ethics of practices.

The Role of the Humanities (Interview)
Northrop Frye, esteemed literary critic and scholar, identifies the emergence of the humanities, distinct from science and from theology, in the age of the Renaissance, when what made us human was given a category of its own study. The ability to articulate what makes us human, he argues, is at the foundation of the civilizations we build. By direct effect, the humanities allow us to build and maintain our societies, and suppression thereof would begin a societal regression.

The Value and Importance of the Arts and the Humanities in Education and Life (Interview)
Dr. Mitchell B. Reiss, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, recounts the importance of the humanities in education when as the head of Washington College he recalled how studying these topics developed “analytical thinking, clarity in written and spoken expression, collaboration, and creativity.” He believes students should be exposed to interdisciplinary studies no matter their focus, just as Einstein grew up studying piano and music, which later helped him think through his scientific career.

What Is The Value Of An Education In The Humanities? (Commentary)

Astrophysics professor Adam Frank argues that a combination of humanities-based and STEM education is what’s necessary for students interested in just one field or another. Big-data is changing the way that history research is being done, just as much as technology is developed to meet human needs, he observes.

Impact of Humanities Research and Scholarship

ACLS Fellows: Focus on Research
Fellows of the American Council of Learned Societies write about their research, including how knowledge is created and how it benefits our understanding of the world.

Assessing the Impact of Arts and Humanities Research at the University of Cambridge (Report)
This RAND Corporation report studied Cambridge researchers and external users of humanities research. The authors developed an analytical framework (“Payback Framework”), and found that humanities research contributed to public knowledge creation, professional legal practice, and understanding and reporting of current events (to name just a few impacts).

Humanities Research is Groundbreaking, Life-Changing...and Ignored (Essay)
Gretchen Busl argues that the value of the humanities extends beyond teaching students to think critically. Humanities scholarship, especially what Busl terms “public humanities scholarship” has wide impact in technology, business, and culture.

Q&A with NEH Public Scholars
NEH Public Scholars answer questions about their books, including a description of the book why the project will have broad appeal.