I recently attended a lecture at Northeast Community College called "Why bother with the humanities?" The lecture was presented by instructor Thomas Elliott as part of the college's monthly series of Hawk Talks. Elliott shared how the humanities had influenced him and changed the course of his life for the better. His message is worth sharing, so, although I won't be able to replicate his sense of humor or include his beautiful photographs, I'd like to attempt to share some of his ideas.
It's helpful to start with a general understanding of what is meant by the term humanities. Britannica defines humanities as "those branches of knowledge that concern themselves with human beings and their culture … an appreciation of human values and of the unique ability of the human spirit to express itself." The study of humanities includes history, literature, arts, culture and even food. Perhaps the National Humanities Center says it most concisely: "Put simply, the humanities help us understand and interpret the human experience, as individuals and societies."
As Elliott's story unfolded, he told the audience about a trip abroad that piqued his curiosity. Seeing art and architecture that was new to him set his mind in motion. That curiosity spurred him to enroll in college, which was not something he had considered previously. As he began his college studies, his growing knowledge of history and literature sparked more curiosity, and that cycle of learning and wondering has continued throughout his life.
Opportunities to spark curiosity and learn about the human experience are all around us. Northeast Nebraska is rich with cultural and educational institutions, such as the Norfolk Arts Center, Elkhorn Valley Museum and Northeast Community College. Each of them regularly offer community members a chance to engage with the humanities through classes, special events or exhibits.
A person looking to learn about the humanities doesn't need to enroll in a formal program or seek out a degree. The public library is an ideal place for self-directed humanities studies. A wealth of books and videos explores the humanities, with only the reader's self-imposed assignments and deadlines. A variety of music is available, from classical to rap, so listeners can sample a sound that may be new to them. A language learning app is provided in the Digital Library for diving into foreign language studies. Classes and programs for lifelong learning are offered on a regular basis and often focus on humanities-related topics. Special programs to meet with authors and artists are offered for all ages.
To answer the question in Elliott's presentation, the humanities are well worth our time because they help us explore the big questions of what it means to be human in our world today. President Ronald Reagan stated, "The arts and humanities teach us who we are and what we can be. They lie at the very core of the culture of which we're a part." The more one understands that core of our culture, the more one will be able to appreciate it and participate in it.