The Practical Value Of A Humanities Degree

The Practical Value Of A Humanities Degree

A concept that has at times seemed like an oxymoron.

A creeping concern that I have had throughout my college education has been of the practical usefulness of my degree. I suppose that this is an issue that haunts any humanities major, living as we do in a society that appears to value tangible products and profit above the kinds of focuses that often dominate a class in the humanities.

And I absolutely can see the value in studying texts from the past and gleaning the lessons they offer, but sometimes I have found myself thinking, how can this be transferred to solve the problems of our modern world?

Sure, these texts may offer lessons about humanity and they may be presented in beautiful, intricate, complex language, but how does that help in a world that is riddled with a plethora of issues that can at times seem overwhelming and impossible to combat?

Where does, say, Shakespeare fit in when it feels like we are left helplessly and ironically hoping that corporations will step up to defend reduction of protected lands from the greed of others?

Well, I think part of the solution is to not become overwhelmed by what can seem to be an overwhelming imbalance of power and to remember that perspective is important.

And inspiration may be found through literature and the words of its makers—one of my recent favorites, for example, comes from Ursula Le Guin, who in her speech at the National Book Awards, reminds her audience that

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”

I am an English major, and during my final semester I decided to take a political science class. This class centered around reading novels which featured utopias and dystopias, and I realized the truth of Le Guin’s words through this class.

These novels (and I think science fiction specifically is a good medium for this) offered alternative realities, and I don’t mean dragons and time travel. They offered alternate societies that operated on different fundamental philosophies.

It is easy to consider the system we live in as having inescapable amounts of power, especially when we have not experienced much of an alternative. Novels of utopias and dystopias and alternatively structured societies offers a space for us to consider alternatives, to see that change is possible.

And thought certainly drives meaningful action.

But it was through this political science class that the bridge between literature and our modern world was made clear to me. Because the theories we think about in that class, about what an ideal world would look like, or an infinitely horrible one, are ones that we were constantly encouraged to think about in tandem with the world we are living in now.

There is something that happens though, when you really think on issues that are pertinent to this world, and when you’re painfully aware of all the ways in which our current world is more dystopian than utopian.

It gets to be so that you realize that you can’t just sit back and hope that someone else will fix things. You have to make the effort in any way that becomes available to you.

It may not always be fruitful, but often it seems that fear of one’s effort not bearing fruit can ensure that one never tries in the first place, which absolutely guarantees that no change will be affected.

The systems we have in place seem rather broken, and frustrating, and entrenched. All this means is that we need to think outside the box and that we need to make active effort to fix these problems. Humans created the systems we live in, and they can modify them, too.

Of course, you need to know what you are working for in the first place, and that is where one of the many values of literature can come in.

As for me, I graduate this semester, and rather than that meaning I am finished with my education, I plan to immerse myself in all the political theory I can get my hands on, because its useless to complain about how things are if a productive solution or alternative is not offered.

In any case, I am going to go and continue to immerse myself in literature with the hopes of taking that knowledge and applying it to my immediate world, and I encourage you to do the same.

Cover Image Credit: traveler1219 on Deviantart

Popular Right Now

35 Major Life Facts According To Nick Miller

"All booze is good booze, unless it's weak booze."

Fact: If you watch "New Girl," you love Nick Miller.

You can't help it. He's an adorable, lovable mess of a man and you look forward to seeing him and his shenanigans each week. While living the infamous and incomparable life of Nick Miller, and obviously Julius Pepperwood— he has learned many valuable laws of the land. And, although Nick refuses to learn anything from anyone besides his mysterious, old Asian friend Tran, he does have a few lessons he'd like to teach us.

Here are 35 facts of life according to 'Nick Milla Nick Milla':

1. Drinking keeps you healthy.

"I'm not gonna get sick. No germ can live in a body that is 65% beer."

2. Dinosaurs never existed.

"I don't believe dinosaurs existed. I've seen the science. I don't believe it."

3. A paper bag is a bank.

"A bank is just a paper bag but with fancier walls."

4. Having sex is similar to delivering mail.

"I'm like a mailman, except instead of mail it's hot sex that I deliver."

5. Moonwalking is a foolproof way to get out of any awkward situation.

Jess (about Nick): "Now he won't even talk to me. I saw him this morning and he just panic moonwalked away from me. He does that sometimes."

6. Using a movie reference is also a great way.

Cece: "Come on, get up!"

Nick: "No, I don't dance. I'm from that town in "Footloose."

7. There's no reason to wash towels.

Nick: "I don’t wash the towel. The towel washes me. Who washes a towel?"

Schmidt: "You never wash your towel?"

Nick: "What am I gonna do? Wash the shower next? Wash a bar of soap?"

8. Exes are meant to be avoided at all costs (especially if/unless they're Caroline)

"I don't deal with exes, they're part of the past. You burn them swiftly and you give their ashes to Poseidon."

9. IKEA furniture is not as intimidating as it looks.

"I'm building you the dresser. I love this stuff. It's like high-stakes LEGOs."

10. You don't need forks if you have hands.

Jess: "That's gross. Get a fork, man."

Nick: "I got two perfectly good forks at the end of my arms!"

11. Sex has a very specific definition.

"It's not sex until you put the straw in the coconut."

12. Doors are frustrating.

"I will push if I want to push! Come on! I hate doors!"

13. All booze is good booze.

"Can I get an alcohol?"

14. ...unless it's weak booze.

"Schmidt, that is melon flavored liquor! That is 4-proof! That is safe to drink while you're pregnant!"

15. Writers are like pregnant women.

Jess: "You know what that sound is? It's the sound of an empty uterus."

Nick: "I can top that easily. I'm having a hard time with my zombie novel."

Jess: "Are you really comparing a zombie novel to my ability to create life?"

Nick: "I'm a writer, Jess. We create life."

16. All bets must be honored.

"There is something serious I have to tell you about the future. The name of my first-born child needs to be Reginald VelJohnson. I lost a bet to Schmidt."

17. Adele's voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

"Adele is amazing."

18. Beyoncé is extremely trustworthy.

"I'd trust Beyoncé with my life. We be all night."

19. Fish, on the other hand, are not.

“Absolutely not. You know I don’t trust fish! They breathe water. That's crazy!"

20. Bar mitzvahs are terrifying.

Schmidt: "It's a bar mitzvah!"

Nick: "I am NOT watching a kid get circumcised!"

21. are blueberries.

Jess: "So far, Nick Miller's list of fears is sharks, tap water, real relationships..."

Nick: "And blueberries."

22. Take your time with difficult decisions. Don't be rash.

Jess: "You care about your burritos more than my children, Nick?"

Nick: "You're putting me in a tough spot!"

23. Getting into shape is not easy.

"I mean, I’m not doing squats or anything. I’m trying to eat less donuts."

24. We aren't meant to talk about our feelings.

"If we needed to talk about feelings, they would be called talkings."

25. We're all a little bit too hard on ourselves.

"The enemy is the inner me."

26. Freezing your underwear is a good way to cool off.

"Trust me, I'm wearing frozen underpants right now and I feel amazing. I'm gonna grab some old underpants and put a pair into the freezer for each of you."

27. Public nudity is normal.

"Everbody has been flashed countless times."

28. Alcohol is a cure-all.

"You treat an outside wound with rubbing alcohol. You treat an inside wound with drinking alcohol."

29. Horses are aliens.

"I believe horses are from outer-space."

30. Turtles should actually be called 'shell-beavers.'

Jess: "He calls turtles 'shell-beavers."

Nick: "Well, that's what they should be called."

31. Trench coats are hot.

"This coat has clean lines and pockets that don't quit, and it has room for your hips. And, when I wear it, I feel hot to trot!"

32. Sparkles are too.

"Now, my final bit of advice, and don't get sensitive on this, but you've got to change that top it's terrible and you've got to throw sparkles on. Sparkles are in. SPARKLES ARE IN."

33. Introspection can lead to a deeper knowing of oneself.

"I'm not convinced I know how to read. I've just memorized a lot of words."

34. It's important to live in the moment.

"I know this isn't gonna end well but the middle part is gonna be awesome."

35. Drinking makes you cooler.

Jess: "Drinking to be cool, Nick? That's not a real thing."

Nick: "That's the only thing in the world I know to be true."

Cover Image Credit: Hollywood Reporter

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating
Facebook Comments