Crisis in the Humanities Pt. II: What are the Humanities?

The university’s College of Arts & Sciences was divided in three colleges for 15 years. UAlbany President Patrick Swygert remerged CAS in 1993 based on findings from a campus organizational committee.

The humanities building, which contains the English department, East Asian studies department, and language, literature & culture department, located next the social sciences building, and education building. Tyler A. McNeil / Minerva Daily

Since then, CAS has been compromised of divisions identical to the former colleges: humanities and fine arts; social and behavioral sciences; science and mathematics.

Despite the separation, there’s some crossover. Humanists and social scientists are scrambled throughout. Some departments have traits of all three divisions.

Ask Shannon Ragone.

Now an anthropology major at UAlbany, Ragone studied art, then biology at Hudson Valley Community College. Interested in uncovering ancient art, she uses both fields of study during research.

Shannon Ragone, anthropology major, at the UAlbany undergraduate research symposium in April.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Ragone.

“I went from a major that my family was super happy with to a major that they were like, ‘What even is that?’” she said.

While having origins in both humanities and natural science, anthropology is often defined as a social science. The department falls under the social and behavioral sciences division of CAS.

But some departments have a blurrier definition. In its program description, the Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino studies department — under the social and behavioral sciences division — touts a diverse curriculum in both humanities and social sciences.

“I WENT FROM A MAJOR THAT MY FAMILY WAS SUPER HAPPY WITH TO A MAJOR THEY WERE LIKE, ‘WHAT EVEN IS THAT?'”

Classification also depends per institution. For example, Binghamton University places Africana studies under an arts & humanities division and history under a social sciences division. The opposite is true at UAlbany.

Heather DeHaan, chair of Binghamton’s history department, said that the discipline straddles humanities and social sciences. Like UAlbany, despite the division, historians at the institution’s Harpur College of Arts and Sciences also work in areas such as sociology and comparative literature.

By definition, humanists use a critical approach to research whereas social scientists analyze through more scientific practices to understand human behavior.

Further, humanities date back to Ancient Greece and Rome; social science is less than 400 years old, birthed from Enlightenment thinkers.

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