What Are Humanities Courses? – Description & Examples

Humanities courses are a common requirement for graduation from universities, but what exactly are the humanities? Find out what falls under the umbrella of the humanities by looking at some descriptions and examples below.

What Does a University Mean When It Refers to the Humanities?

Universities offering degrees are concerned with creating well-rounded graduates who meet a basic level of education in a variety of subjects aside from their major, and one aspect of this is an education in the humanities. The humanities refer to courses in two major categories, arts and culture, that are designed to enrich a student’s knowledge of the world beyond their own life. Even for degrees in engineering and physical sciences, at least a few humanities courses are typically required. It is possible to major in many of these fields as well, and degree programs in these areas will often have similar requirements for science and mathematics courses to ensure a balanced education.

Definition The humanities is a term including art, literature, and music, as well as cultural studies involving history, philosophy, religion, and politics
Sample Arts Courses Introduction to Visual Arts, Introduction to Music Theory, Shakespearean Literature
Sample Cultural Courses African-American Literature, Ancient Philosophy, History of Women
Other Course Options Introduction to Islam, History of Christianity, Political Theory

What Kinds of Arts Courses Are There in the Humanities?

The arts is a foundation of humanities and includes studio arts, music, and literature. Low level courses in the arts which can be used to meet graduation requirements will typically cover the basics and founding principles without getting too in-depth. For example, a course with a name like Introduction to Visual Arts may tackle the history of art, basic color theory, and movements and styles like Impressionism or Modernism. A course introducing music theory, similarly, would deal with the theory behind music, how to read sheet music, and the history of musical styles. Slightly more advanced courses may be available outside of a dedicated major as well, for those with a basis in the field already. These courses might focus on art produced in particular periods, such as the Renaissance, or specific genres of music, such as jazz, or even a single artist or author, like a course on Shakespeare.

What Kinds of Cultural Courses Are There in the Humanities?

Culture sets a wide net, looking at various aspects of many cultures and subcultures around the world, that can include ethnicity geography, and gender. Courses on certain cultures might look at philosophy, politics, and history, as well as certain aspects of a society like pop culture.

African-American studies is a common cultural focus at universities in the US, looking at the subculture that exists, the history, the role African-Americans have played in wider American history, and literature produced by African American authors. Culture courses can look at ancient cultures as well; a course on ancient Greek philosophy would teach students about how the Greeks looked at the world and how these ideas have influenced later cultures.

What Other Courses Might Be Available Within the Humanities?

Depending on the university, there may be other course options that could fulfill a humanities requirement. Foreign languages are typically a separate requirement, but may be considered humanities, and side courses within the department studying a particular culture may count, even if a course in that language is a prerequisite. Other topics, such as political science and ethics, may also qualify as humanities. Courses on religion, when available, commonly count, particularly religions that do not have a large presence in modern American culture.