"When the theater gates open, a mob pours inside, and it is the poet's task to turn it into an audience."
Franz Grillparzer ("Audience", Poems (1848-1849).
History of the Humanities
The humanities are not simply defined. In classical and early Christian times, the scope of the humanities seemed very broad. Literature constituted the core, but virtually every discipline relating to the mind of man was considered a part of the humanities.
In the Renaissance period, the term "humanities" was used in opposition to the term "divinity" and seemed to embrace all areas of study outside the field of religion. In the 19th century, the term was used to include those disciplines that could not be considered part of the natural sciences. By the 20th century, the fields of study that dealt with social, rather than natural, phenomena had emerged, along with "scientific" methods of investigation in the several social sciences. In the last years of the 20th century, the humanities remain those fields of scholarship and study which are "dedicated to the discipline development of verbal, perceptual, and imaginative skills needed to understand experience*."
The fields of study commonly associated with the humanities include philosophy, religion, and visual arts, the performing arts, language and literature.
To this day, there are still some disciplines which in some circumstances are considered part of the humanities, and in others as part of the social sciences, such as history.
(Information in the above passage adapted from: The Humanities: A Selective Guide to Information Sources Blazek, Ron and Elizabeth Aversa, Fourth Edition Libraries Unlimited: Englewood, CO, 1994)
Approaches to the Humanities
Humanities material may be approached from a number of different avenues - by national traits (American literature, French literature, etc.), by time period (twelfth century art, eighteenth century literature, etc.), or by genre (poetry, drama, fiction, symphony, sculpture, etc.). Yet another approach to the humanities is the thematic approach. In the performing arts, one may also study the facet of the performer.
Materials of the Humanities
The primary sources of the humanities are the original texts in literature, religion, and philosophy, and the original scores in music. A second type of primary source used by humanist far more than the original text is the edited text. Edited text may include an introduction, notes, and explanations.
The secondary sources of humanistic materials include criticism, interpretation, opinion, and performance. Secondary sources often have as long of a history as the primary sources. In addition, secondary sources have an added human element - the critic, reviewer, or performer. At this level of interpretation, our appreciation of the material is based both upon the work itself, and the artist who render it for us.
Tertiary sources of humanistic material include textbooks, introductions, popularizations, biographics, histories, and reference sources for the humanities.
Researchers in the humanities prefer the monograph (book). One also notices a much wider time spread in the materials used. For example, publications of the past five years of most importance to scientific research; the humanist, however, is likely to be interested in works of twenty to one hundred years ago, or more. Humanists tend to browse resources more than scientists.