Let’s Stop Putting Down the Humanities and the Arts

I wish I didn’t have to hear so many negative comments and jokes about Humanities and Social Science degrees. I wish I didn’t have to hear people saying that taking an English or a History Major is an easy way out. Why do so many people feel the need to say, “You’re smart, why didn’t you study sciences?” Why are we immediately in awe of those in the sciences, and where’s the respect for the other disciplines?

I love both the arts and sciences, in fact I was a science major for 2 years before I decided to switch to a BA. I have a General Studies diploma with a concentration in Earth Sciences, which always surprises people. As much as I loved my first major I knew that continuing in it wasn’t going to make me happy in the long run. I realized it was more of a hobby than the career I wanted. After a gruelling semester studying geomorphology, paleontology and mineralogy, hours and hours of staying in the lab and looking at rock samples under the microscope, plus a horrible, wet field school in the BC interior, surrounded by bears and having to use a stinky pit latrine, I realized that maybe this major wasn’t for me. It was a tough decision but honestly the best decision I’ve ever made. Taking arts and humanities courses after taking so many science courses felt like a homecoming for me; all the reading, all the lovely essay writing, I felt completely at home.

It’s quite frustrating to hear people say that the arts and humanities are easy. I would like for them to try to make sense of some of the books that I’ve read.  I feel for me personally studying the arts is tricky because things are evolving more quickly due to globalization, postcolonialism, etc., and also because there’s so much cross-contamination with other disciplines. There are so many developments going on in society it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with it all, but it’s all so very important. In my Global Politics course I had to read philosophy, race studies, media studies, feminist theory, history and international relations course material. All those in a politics class! Can you imagine how much reading I had to do? A lot. It’s also essential to be quick at connecting things and delving into them in depth. It’s not a walk in the park by any means, so when people say my major is easy, I believe they are essentially devaluing the time and effort I take in studying, reading, and writing.

I realize that one of the reasons that people don’t respect the humanities is because of the statistics that say that scientists earn a lot more than non-scientists. But just because someone has a science degree it doesn’t necessarily mean they will get a job working in their field anyway. And it’s too much to go into right now but I think it’s tragic that so many people study something they detest just because they believe they can get a lucrative job once they graduate.

I love the arts. They have made me a decent writer, a decent thinker, a more empathetic human being, and they have encouraged me to question things and expand my horizons. I have learned skills that I probably wouldn’t have learned in the sciences. The pursuit of knowledge is something that was instilled in me while doing my BA and now halfway through my MA. A world full of scientists, can you imagine? The same goes for a world full of arts and humanities students. We need the diversity for several reasons. We’re all different, have different brains, different personalities. It doesn’t make sense to me to hierarchize everything, creating elitism.



10 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Putting Down the Humanities and the Arts

  1. No one can define your worth unless you let them. I find that very often, people pass judgements on other people’s choices to reassure themselves about their own. Hold on to yours, Rowena, you rock.

    1. Thank you, Alice! And great point. I just wish people could see the value in all disciplines because I shudder to think how many unhappy people there are out there because they were pressured into taking a programme they didn’t really care for just so they could get a “good” job afterwards. I love my Major:)

  2. What I like about the arts and humanities is that after studying them, or working at them as a job, many actually live them. It’s their life. Everybody’s life story is content for the humanities. I don’t know many people who own laboratories test tubes and microscopes in their homes. But books, paint brushes, guitars, microphones: LIFE!!!!!

    1. I’m not so sure that the arts and humanities are so different from other disciplines, in this respect. I think many engineers and scientists *do* “live” their work. Science is an attitude and approach – in addition to whatever else it may be – and many scientists I know carry it into their daily lives, regardless of whether they have “test tubes and microscopes” in their homes.

      And engineers are *notorious* for still being engineers while “off the clock”. Give an engineer a DIY problem at home to solve, or a new gadget to tinker with, and you’ll see that for many of them, it’s more than just a job.

      1. That’s a great point! I do love the sciences and I hope I haven’t devalued them in my post as that would be hypocritical of me, haha:D I know that here in Canada Arts majors are obligated to take Statistics, Math and a science lab course, and Science Majors have to take English literature courses and a few other humanities. My main thing was being made to feel like I was too lazy or unmotivated to study the sciences, I wish all disciplines could be valued equally.

      2. Hi Rowena – just replying to your comment – oh no, I don’t think you devalued the science. I was more responding to FreedomTrapped, and commenting on the fact that, even though someone might not have test tubes and microscopes at home, there’s more to science than its physical apparatus.

        I agree with you – I think ideally, it would be great for humanities students to get some exposure to scientific method, and for science students to be exposed to the social sciences and humanities.

        In particular, it would be nice (as used to be the case, in the ’50s and earlier) if more scientists had a good grounding in literature and writing. A lot of early scientific papers are written in beautiful, crystal-clear prose, and are actually a pleasure to read: I think it’s fair to say that many modern papers I read are not nearly so well written.

        (Although: another possibility is that there was just as high a proportion of awful papers back in the early 20th century, and I just don’t know about them.)

  3. I love the arts too! Studying humanities taught me and gave me an informed perspective on things that happen everyday and affect everyone. Case in point – world politics. Those who mock the humanities are governed by those who studied humanities 🙂 Looks like we get the last laugh 😉 I am glad I studied arts, they taught me that there are many ways to see and interpret the world. Great post Rowena!

    1. I was hoping people would chime in as to why the humanities are so important so I truly appreciate your awesome comment! And yup, when things go a bit awry, people immediately contact a social scientist or someone along those lines who can make sense of the crazy stuff going on. And yes, art gives us a new way to interpret the world, love that thought!

  4. Ugh, Ro you have no idea what torture I’m going through at the moment…well actually, you probably do! Whenever I tell people I’m teaching English and Life Orientation, I immediately get told that I chose ‘easy’ subjects. Only when I tell them that I chose LO because of my Psychology background(its a university pre-requisite for teaching LO) that’s when they shut up.
    Jeez, you sound more and more like me everytime! LOL. I majored in Archaeology, a science subject, but I did it as part of a BA. Like you I also realised that I saw it more of a hobby and realised later that I didn’t really want to pursue a career in it. When I tell people I have a general BA, nobody bothers to ask what my majors were. They just see it as something ‘easy’ that I did. People are strange. :-/

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