Here are 9 reasons why humanities matter. What’s your number 10?

infographics-collage Did you know that over two-thirds of humanities majors get jobs in the private sector? Did you know that almost 60% of U.S. CEOs have degrees in the humanities? Did you know that the humanities receive less than 0.5% of federal research money in the U.S. and only about 1% in Europe?

I didn’t know these things either until I saw the list of winners of the 2013 Digital Humanities Awards and had a good look at an infographic called The Humanities Matter!

There’s research on the impact of the humanities; there’s evidence demonstrating how studying the humanities benefits society, employers and individuals.

I’ll list here nine arguments that the humanities are important. While you read them, try to think of what you would fill in as number 10.

  1. The humanities help us understand others through their languages, histories and cultures.
  2. They foster social justice and equality.
  3. And they reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of the world.
  4. The humanities teach empathy.
  5. They teach us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, imperfect information.
  6. And they teach us to weigh evidence skeptically and consider more than one side of every question.
  7. Humanities students build skills in writing and critical reading.
  8. The humanities encourage us to think creatively. They teach us to reason about being human and to ask questions about our world.
  9. The humanities develop informed and critical citizens. Without the humanities, democracy could not flourish.

I believe these claims and I know they are based on solid research. I see much more, too. For example, I think that innovations based on research results in the natural sciences and medicine are more likely to be successful if their implementation is carried out in collaboration with humanists.

But for now, let me just say one more thing. The arguments in the list above are quotes. They come from an exciting infographic put together by some creative researchers working in a whole new field called Digital Humanities.

And that leads me to my 10th reason: If it weren’t for the humanities, we couldn’t have the digital humanities!

What’s your best reason for thinking the humanities are important? If you have one you like, send me a tweet or put it in a comment below, and if I get enough, I’ll include it in a new blog post!

While you’re thinking about that, enjoy a much cooler presentation of the nine reasons the humanities matter — along with many more important numbers, too.

The infographic you see below was made by Melissa TerrasErnesto PriegoAlan LiuGeoff RockwellStéfan Sinclair, Christine Hensler, and Lindsay Thomas over at 4humanities.org. Enjoy!


My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more



  • One of the problems with tracing arguments such as these is the lack of precision. We start off discussing the humanities, and then we segue into AHSS. Of course the majority of politicians in Westminister have studied AHSS, since PPE is almost a prerequisite to a political career.

    Of arguments 1, 2, 4, and 9 above, there are enough counterexamples that I begin to wonder if we do ourselves favours by having examples that aren’t solid. If the above arguments were presented as ‘evidence’ in the social sciences, I can imagine the collective disciplinary eyebrow heading skyward in scepticism and questioning the lack of methodological rigour.

    Helen Small’s recent book “The Value of the Humanities” goes through these and other justifications for the humanities, tracing their genealogies, and without finally plumping for one. My sense is that you and she have a similar, cumulative sense of argument, that there is no, one, stand-out, knock-down argument for the humanities, but rather that it’s an ecology of such arguments. The above infographic is, of course, a bit of fun, but it’s a an appeal-to-Buzzfeed defence of the humanities, and we can do better.

    • Curt Rice says:

      It is a bit popularistic, I agree. I think the “new” arguments that deserve careful development include inter-disciplinary perspectives. Why does technological innovation, for example, need to be carried out with the input not only of physicists and chemists, but also French teachers and art historians? What do we mean by “digital humanities” and how is that going to lead to new knowledge and maybe even new applications affecting daily lives? There are many strategies to take. And while I sometimes find political anti-humanities arguments exhausting, I actually think it’s important for everyone to be able to say something sensible about what they’re up to. So … I’ll keep working on this 🙂

  • Arto Mustajoki says:

    Thank you for the idea of making the list.

    In addition to that, I think the significance of research in SSH (I do not differentiate them) can be also be justified by the following argument:

    The human factor plays a crucial role in solving the grand challenges of mankind (ageing, energy supply, environmental issues, climate change, etc.). That’s why research on human values and behaviour is vital.

    The biggest problem in the world is lack of mutual understanding among people, social groups, religions, nations. SSH researchers are specialists in that.

    All modern professions are based on interaction between people. Trade, services, manufacturing, administration, education, and personal life benefit from the ability to conduct proper communication. Even small progress in that may lead to big results.

    Arto Mustajoki
    Dean of the Faculty of Arts
    Helsinki University

  • The humanities as disciplines of study have their own intrinsic value. Apple, is perhaps, one of the best market/commercial examples of how the humanities permeate all aspects of human life. Apple’s ability to evolve and dominate the markets is largely because of its understanding of the human aspect of engaging with technologies, being able to predict and teach the consumer what s/he wants from his/her experience with their device. There’d be a lot fewer conflicts in the world if we all were in better touch with our humanity! Great posting!

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