What Are Humanities Classes?

What Are Humanities Classes?

8 minute read

Studies in the humanities aim to give students a broad, well-rounded education in understanding the human experience, but what are humanities classes, exactly? Read on to find out more about common college humanities subjects and how they can be applied to real-world careers.

The Humanities: Definitions and Examples

The humanities encompass a comprehensive exploration of human thought and culture, delving into literature, history, philosophy, art, film, and cultural studies. They’re meant to help learners perceive the creative and intellectual arts through a fresh lens and foster a deeper appreciation for the richness of human expression and civilization.

The term "humanities" has its roots in the Latin word "humanus," denoting qualities associated with humans, culture, and refinement. The humanities originated in ancient Greece around the 5th century BC and gained prominence during a period known as the Classical Era. 

Scholars like Aristotle and Plato laid the foundation for intellectual pursuits that would later be classified as the humanities. Centuries later, Renaissance thinkers rediscovered classical texts that had previously been forgotten, fostering a new humanistic approach that emphasized critical thinking and appreciation for cultural achievements.

In today's world of academics, certain classifications can get confusing or blur the lines between disciplines. Let’s take a closer look at some of these categorizations and distinctions.

Humanities vs. Liberal Arts

The best way to think of the liberal arts is as a general umbrella under which everything else falls. 

Liberal arts encompasses the humanities along with social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. These subjects emphasize critical thinking and scientific methodologies with the broader intellectual frameworks found in liberal arts education. The term comes from the Latin “liberalis,” meaning “free” and “ars,” meaning “art or principled practice.” The idea is to provide students with a balanced and well-rounded education focused on rational thought.

Humanities vs. Social Sciences

Social sciences focus on the systematic study of social, cultural, and psychological aspects of human societies, often employing empirical methods to analyze patterns and behaviors. While the social sciences take a concrete perspective, analyzing observable patterns, the humanities adopt a more theoretical and abstract viewpoint.

Some subjects blur the lines between humanities and social sciences. For example, anthropology has aspects of both studies. While it involves the social sciences aspect of systematic and empirical study of human societies and social phenomena, it also covers humanities topics like cultural interpretation, ethnography, and the understanding of human experiences.

What Classes Are Considered Humanities?

A common theme between humanities classes, even in different disciplines, is the emphasis on critical thinking and the analysis of the human condition. At StraighterLine, we strive to provide high-quality classes that provide you with the opportunity to hone these skills through different lenses, from philosophy to art to communication. Here are just some of the humanities classes you’ll find at StraighterLine.


Philosophy is the examination of thought, human nature, and our place in the world. It encompasses topics such as existentialism, free will, metaphysics, and determinism while focusing on the development of critical thinking skills. A typical philosophy course will usually start with the famous philosophers of Ancient Greece and trace the history and schools of philosophy up to today’s greatest minds. 


By studying religion, students can gain an in-depth knowledge of beliefs held by cultures throughout history and around the world. Most college-level religion courses explore the sources of religions and examine similarities and differences among global religious traditions.


The appreciation of art includes more than being able to recognize a masterwork. As a part of the humanities, art appreciation includes developing the vocabulary to talk about art, including principles of design, color, and space, as well as understanding the history and value of art. 


Studies in anthropology cover human diversity across cultures, including economic, political, social, and cultural spectrums. It often includes studies of how communication and language have evolved throughout our history and influenced different cultures. 


History encompasses an enormous variety of topics, from the earliest days of human existence up to recent events. Depending on which course you take, it also covers specific geological areas or societies, such as Western Civilization or U.S. History.


The study of communication, as both an art and a science, is at the foundation of nearly every other field. In a communications course, you might learn about communication theory and its evolution. Classes usually include both verbal and written communication skills and ways to improve your own communication with others, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

Do All Colleges Require Humanities Courses?

Most colleges and universities have a humanities requirement for graduation. The requirement varies by school, with some requiring a specific humanities course or courses for all students and others requiring only a certain number of humanities credits to graduate. 

There are several reasons why colleges might require a humanities course or several courses. Mostly, they want to graduate well-rounded students who are able to read and analyze a text, research a topic thoroughly, and think critically about a variety of subjects. Those are life skills that will be applicable in almost any career field a student pursues during and after college. 

What Can I Do With A Degree In Humanities?

There are numerous ways to score a great job with a humanities degree. The careers listed below are some of the most popular fields for humanities graduates. While a degree in one of the humanities isn’t a guarantee you’ll get one of the jobs listed below, it’s certainly a good first step in the right direction.


If you enjoy history, whether across the board or in a more specialized area of study, you might consider pursuing a career as a historian. 

Historians are academic researchers who meticulously study and analyze past events, providing insights into the ongoing growth of human history. You’ll delve into primary sources, such as documents, artifacts, and eyewitness accounts, to construct a narrative of a time and place or a specific event. Or, you might choose to specialize in fields like military history, economic history, or social history. 

Most professional historians start with a bachelor’s degree and advance to a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. in their specialty. But it all starts with taking the right humanities courses as an undergraduate.


Aspiring educators often find that degrees in the humanities provide a well-rounded foundation for their careers. Teachers need a comprehensive understanding of various subjects to effectively engage students and foster critical thinking. A humanities degree equips educators with diverse knowledge, enhancing their ability to connect with students on multiple levels. 

For example, the Education Studies Career Pathway at StraighterLine includes courses in communication, philosophy, American government, and environmental sciences to prepare you for the general education courses required for many education degrees.

Bear in mind that no matter what grade you’d like to teach, you may be required to complete certain certifications in addition to your college degree(s). This ensures educational proficiency and practical teaching skills on top of any humanities you might choose to specialize in, like history or English.

Museum Curator

If your interests gravitate toward art or history and you enjoy engaging with the public or working for a worthy cause, then you might consider a career as a museum curator. By exploring the diverse range of topics covered by the humanities, you’ll prepare yourself for a rewarding career that educates and entertains the public and helps to shape our culture.

A curator usually works for a museum or similar educational institution. They must possess a range of skills, including creativity and knowledge of history. Depending on where you work and what you do, a degree in anthropology, art, religion, or philosophy may be of use. Note that many museum curators start with a bachelor’s degree in one of these humanities and go on to earn a specialized master’s degree or Ph.D. in their chosen fields.

Earn Your Humanities Credits With StraighterLine

StraighterLine offers a wide range of humanities courses that can earn you credit toward your school’s graduation requirements or start you on your path to a new career. Our credits are transferable to over 150 schools and are recommended for credit by the American Council on Education at even more colleges. Try a humanities course with us today and see where it can take you!

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