The curriculum and its content of this academic year surround the concept of “humanity.” Thus, the course calls itself “Humanities” and labels its members as “Humesters.” With the guidance of the Humes professors, my fellow humesters and I dedicate our freshman lives to making the distinction between the humanities and Humanities. Although the two terms both concern humankind, lowercase humanities characterizes the human condition and uppercase Humanities describes the study of human society. 

Lowercase Humanities 

We naturally lump people into organizations and seek distinctions between each other. Human identity can both unite and divide societies. But, all humans can find similarities with those who define their identity differently. No matter our religion, nationality, race, ethnicity, culture, etc. we all seek belonging.

Both John Locke and Denis Diderot, from the first unit, show that the ability to reason separates humans from animals. Human reason values us as different and worthy of imitation. We all can reason, but a failure to use this ability demotes us to animals. A failure to seek truth renounces our status as humans. Another philosopher from the first unit, Karl Marx, describes humanity as a species-being. Marx’s species being creates reason from their activity, which distinguishes humans from animals. So, humanity consists of species beings who maintain their humanhood with the distinct ability to reason.  

In addition to the ability to reason, cognitive relativism also contributes to the characteristics of humanity. The second unit defines cognitive relativism as the networks of beliefs that determine humanity’s conceptual frameworks. Cognitive relativism establishes standards of justification, leading humans to ask questions of themselves and their lives. To realize how people give sense to their human experience in a larger context, they attempt to tell the story of their contribution to humanity. This story of humanity consists of distinctions between solidarity and objectivity; knowledge and opinion; appearance and reality.

Similarly, the third unit defined humanity through significant distinctions. Humanity depends on the relationship between empathy and sympathy. While sympathy rests in our metaphysical bodies, empathy exists in our literal bodies. Both sympathy and empathy influence humans’ desire to seek connections with each other. Humans attempt to find similarities between different communities. Encounters between communities create intelligent, informed bonds through the exchange of information. Humanity understands itself through their surroundings and connections. With regards to the third and fourth units, humanity consists of two components: culture—what we feel in our bodies—and identity—how we create culture. In summary, humanity concerning the qualities that make us human depends on interpretations of cultures, connections, categories, and communities.

Notes from President Quillen’s first lecture

Uppercase Humanities 

The capital-H Humanities refers to the branch of learning that investigates human society, as opposed to natural systems; philosophy, arts, languages, and history as opposed to physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. During this semester, each unit represented a different aspect of the Humanities, such as history, philosophy, language, and communication.

We cannot compartmentalize the Humanities. It consists of many different components. Part of the Humanities curriculum includes history. One of the plenary lectures of the first unit defined history as the study of human experience. Chaos and the survival of random artifacts compose history. It is impossible to create a narrative of everything that happens, so we must determine what is most important based on what appears to matter most. What survives from the past and sustains different interpretations allows people to determine what is important. These assumptions shape what we perceive as history. But, as we studied in the third unit, we must question what others perceive as important to uncover assumptions. We must uncover the history of lost histories. We must remember by dismembering.  

The Humanities curriculum emphasizes the importance of uncovering the true roots of the historical narrative. As we learned in the second unity, the study of the Humanities comes from the difficulty we encounter trying to find a reality independent from human thinking. Members of the Humanities accept the impossibility of separating the truth from human influence in the cognitive experience. So, intellectuals create different ways of thinking from this universal truth. The fourth unit presented the following questions as an attempt to recognize the presence of human thinking in historical tellings: what happened? How does the historical narrative talk about what happened? How does the representation of what happened affect an audience?

All four units emphasized the importance of language and communication in the Humanities. The second unit even dedicated an entire plenary lecture to the importance of literacy and translation. Translation attempts to recreate an aesthetic experience for its readers. However, the dominance of particular languages, cultures, and perspectives interferes with the accuracy of a translation. For example, colonization silenced a non-western voice through its imposition of a single, dominant narrative. The success of translation depends on the accuracy of the intention of the speaker versus the interpretation of the listener. While we must approach all retelling with a critical lens, written works offer consistency in Humanity’s narrative. Writing allows us to re-read, re-examine, and re-think arguments. It records the results of experiences and experiments. Literacy forces us to make claims relevant beyond particular conversations and, therefore, revise our interpretations of general claims. 

We all possess an ability to interpret the Humanities how we wish through different forms of identification, realization, and observation. Reason leads us to observation, and thought leads us to theory. Therefore, I believe the capital-H Humanities refers to the study of human nature with a dependency on critical thinking and speculative interpretation. 

Notes from Professor Tamura’s final lecture