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Humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts such as music and theatre. Areas that are sometimes regarded as social sciences and sometimes as humanities include history, archaeology, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, classical studies, law, semiotics and linguistics.

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Scholars in the humanities are “humanities scholars” or humanists. The term “humanist” also describes the philosophical position of humanism, which some “antihumanist” scholars in the humanities refuse. The Renaissance scholars and artists were also called humanists. Some secondary schools offer humanities classes, usually consisting of English literature, global studies, and art.

Human disciplines like history and cultural anthropology study subject matters that the experimental method does not apply to—and instead mainly use the comparative method and comparative research.

The Humanities Indicators, unveiled in 2009 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, are the first comprehensive compilation of data about the humanities in the United States, providing scholars, policymakers and the public with detailed information on humanities education from primary to higher education, the humanities workforce, humanities funding and research, and public humanities activities. Modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, the Humanities Indicators are a source of reliable benchmarks to guide analysis of the state of the humanities in the United States.

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The word “humanities” is derived from the Renaissance Latin expression studia humanitatis, or “study of humanitas” (a classical Latin word meaning—in addition to “humanity” — “culture, refinement, education” and, specifically, an “education befitting a cultivated man”). In its usage in the early 15th century, the studia humanitatis was a course of studies that consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy, primarily derived from the study of Latin and Greek classics.


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