Greetings from Clare Haru Crowston

What are the ‘Humanities’ and why should I study them?

If you are visiting this website out of intellectual curiosity sparked by a familiar word used in an unfamiliar way, then you are the kind of person who thrives as a humanities major.

As the name suggests, the humanities are concerned with the things that have mattered most to human beings—the ones that have defined us as human beings. The objects of humanistic study are the values we embrace, the stories we tell to celebrate and to test those values, and the language(s) we use to tell those stories. Collectively, the academic disciplines we classify under the label humanities cover the whole spectrum of human cultures across the entire span of human history.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois offers dozens of humanities majors from which to choose, and this website will help you to decide which of them is right for you. Most of your classes will be small enough to allow intense, in-depth discussion of important topics, guided by teachers who include the leading experts in their fields. You will learn through active engagement with people who know you and take a personal interest in your success. This experiential, interactive learning is deeply satisfying, a source of enjoyment that is one good reason to major in the humanities.

What you learn also will be useful in any career you pursue. Specialized training for a specific profession has a very short shelf life, but the knowledge and skills that come with studying the humanities never go out of date. You will become adept at:

  • communicating effectively in writing and speaking;
  • grasping the power of narrative and recognizing the ways in which it can be abused;
  • discovering innovative solutions to complex problems by approaching them from multiple perspectives;
  • understanding and appreciating diverse cultures;
  • working well in teams with people from different backgrounds by respecting their views in order to arrive at mutually satisfactory results; and
  • thinking both critically and creatively.

These are the skills that potential employers consistently say they want and need most from university graduates, and the career advisers in the Humanities Professional Resource Center will help you make that connection.

What is useful for getting a good job is also essential for living a good life. In an increasingly interconnected global society, we must be able to see the world as others see it. As technological innovations proliferate, we need to recognize their ethical implications and anticipate their unintended consequences. To navigate a sea of data, we depend on informed judgment that enables us to distinguish factual evidence from misinformation and separate what is truly important from the background noise. To study the humanities is to cultivate the essential qualities you will need in order to achieve your personal and professional goals even as you help to create a better society for all human beings.


Clare Crowston


Clare Haru Crowston
Associate Dean for Humanities and Interdisciplinary Programs
Faculty, Departments of History and French & Italian
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Illinois