What are the humanities?

“The humanities” refer to a group of academic fields and disciplines, including history, literature, philosophy, ethics, archeology, anthropology, linguistics, geography, classics, and legal, gender, ethnic/race, cultural, or religious studies. These fields broadly employ interpretive and analytical methodologies to explore a particular question, usually one explores some aspect of the human condition.

The humanities do not include the hard sciences and should not be confused with “humanism” – a specific philosophical belief – nor with “humanitarianism”– which focusses on charitable works and social reform.

The public humanities apply the insights, methods, and knowledge of the humanities disciplines to programs that are available to members of the public.

How do I know if my idea qualifies as a humanities program?

While public humanities programs can take many forms, you should be able to articulate how your program will draw on the methods, knowledge, or insights of a specific discipline. Your program should have a clearly defined theme or question that can be interpreted or explored from a variety of angles.

While many humanities programs tend to explore the human condition, a program that encourages participants to try to understand the perspective of other humans is not automatically a humanities program. A humanities program should present an analytical question that asks participants draw on the methods of the above disciplines as they explore an idea or concept.

Because “the humanities” describe a category of fields of inquiry, there is no such thing as “humanities themes.” A proposal that explained it would engage participants in “humanities-based discussions” or draw on “humanities themes” would likely not qualify as an eligible program. The proposal should identify a theme or question and explain how it will draw on a field of study – history, literature, or philosophy – to explore the defined theme.

For more information, please contact Agnes Burt, Ph.D., Program Manager - Community Project Grants, at or (603) 224-4071, ext. 114.