HUMA01 Final review notes
What are the Humanities?
• The study of human culture in all its aspects
History, language, literature, classical studies, jurisprudence (law), philosophy,
ethics, and comparative religion, as well as the history, theory and criticism of the
visual and performing arts
As distinguished from the quantifiable, empirical approach of the natural and
social sciences, the humanities are mainly analytic, critical, interpretive, and
• Lyn Maxwell White writes that the humanities “offer models and methods for
addressing dilemmas and acknowledging ambiguity and paradox. . . . They
also give voice to feeling and artistic shape to experience, balancing
passion and rationality and exploring issues of morality and value. The
study of the humanities provides a venue in which the expression of
differing interpretations and experiences can be recognized and areas of
common interest explored.”
• Courses in the humanities explore such fundamental questions as how we
use language, how our ideas and thoughts on the human experience are
expressed and interpreted, how we determine value and meaning, how
we define ideas such as “truth”, “beauty”, and “art”
• They consider ideas about the meaning of life, the reasons for our thoughts
and actions, and the values and principles that inform our laws and
customs, those both written and unwritten
• The humanities, as a broad and diverse collection of academic disciplines,
examine how we construct our aesthetic, intellectual, religious, social,
and political worlds, and they look comparatively at the differences in such
constructions in different times and places, and for different people.
• “Through the humanities,” the Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities
has noted, “we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to
be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They
reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense
of a world in which irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as
conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.”
• Engage with the work of others
In pursuing a line of inquiry or research, scholars need to identify and engage with
what others have written about a subject. While individual scholars must draw on
their own emotional, aesthetic and intellectual responses to a work of art or other
cultural artifact, they also contextualize their responses by situating them within
the broader conversations taking place among other scholars and readers.
Humanities scholars are obligated to examine texts, images and sounds carefully.
They must read, view and listen closely and critically and make fair, generous, and
assertive use of the work of other scholars. “Engage with the work of others” is part
of extending the conversations on a given subject in order to enrich human
2. Articulate a position The point of engaging with the work of others is to move beyond what has been
said before. A university may be a repository of knowledge, but it is also a place
where new knowledge gets made. As a student, you are now part of the process of
making new knowledge, of reaching new understandings and insights into texts,
images and sounds.
Like other humanities scholars, you must bring your own intellect and creativity to
the issues at hand, while also carefully differentiating your voice from the voices of
others with whom you engage. The challenge you face is to provide new
interpretations and evidence that advance clear and interesting positions.
3. Situate writing within specific contexts
All writers must develop an awareness of their audience and its unique
expectations and concerns. For academic writers, this audience is composed of other
interested, intellectual individuals. Such readers have their own ideas, arguments,
and methodologies, and so you must show your awareness by articulating the
reasoning behind your approach and acknowledging potential objections to
your analysis or argument.
The readers of such papers value complexity and nuance, and they understand that
an interesting or worthwhile idea cannot be reduced to a simple black/white,
pro/con position. Your audience hopes to learn from your discussion and advance
their own thinking on the issue or inquiry at hand. This requires you to develop a
strong ethos that suggests you are a thoughtful and fair critic who relies on logos
more so than pathos in making your assessments.
This audience also expects writing to be presented with care, thought and style,
so review, edit, polish and proofread your work as much as possible to make it as
perfect as possible.
• Teachers, Scholars, Students
These three exist in a dynamic relationship
Each forms and informs the other (and these categories are rarely mutually
Professors are teachers and scholars, but they are also learners
We learn through research, and this research allows us to add to academic
conversations through presentation, publication, and conversing with students
Teaching and Scholarship are bound to one another – good teaching requires
sound research, which then allows for fuller and more effective teaching!
Ideal = The Classroom Community
• This raises some important questions
What is knowledge?
Epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods,
validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion
Oxford English Dictionary Online
Knowledge ≠ Information
Maria Popova (“Are We Becoming Cyborgs?”) expresses concern about the tendency
to “conflate information and knowledge”
Knowledge = Information processed by a thinking human mind
Knowledge (1) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the
theoretical or practical understanding of a subject;
(2) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information;
(3) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation
Creation of knowledge
• Humans create knowledge, so this creation is part of being human
University as a unique locale, in which this activity is given special importance
The luxury of having time and opportunity devoted to thinking
Take advantage of it!!
The key to this knowledge is sharing – exchanging knowledge with one another,
informing one another, helping each other expand our intellectual horizons
• Studies in epistemology are especially interested in developing criteria for
evaluating claims that one "knows" something
• In particular, it considers questions such as:
What is knowledge?
How do we know what we know?
What is the difference between knowledge and opinion or belief?
If you know something, does that mean that you are certain about it?
Is knowledge really possible?
• Knowledge is made in two broad-based ways:
Empirical vs. Speculative Analytic/Critical
• Human knowledge divided into two major categories:
The Empirical Sciences and the Humanities
• Empirical Sciences
Natural Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Ecology, etc.
Social Sciences: Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, etc.
Philosophy, Literature, the Visual and Performing Arts, Study of Religion, etc.
History is a tricky category
• There are facts regarding events that happened in the past
• But, in being processed through human minds, the
development and propagation of these narratives can manifest
in drastically different ways
• Example: Dussel, Enrique. “Was America Discovered or
• What is at stake when we say that “history is written by
Empirical vs. Speculative
• Quantitative v. Qualitative
Different forms of thinking, suited to empirical sciences and humanities,
respectively • Let’s consider the etymology of each term
Etymology: the study of word origins
• “Empirical” came from the Greek word “empirikos,” which means
Empirikos can be divided into two Greek words, en- and peira, which mean “in”
So the word literally means “experience in trial”
• “Speculative” comes from the Greek word “spekulatus”, which means “to look
• Empirical - practical; based on experience
Synonyms: experiment, experiential, experimental, factual, observational,
Practical - realistic, useful
Synonyms: applied, both feet on the ground, businesslike, commonsensical,
constructive, doable, down-to-earth, efficient, empirical, experimental, factual,
feasible, functional, handy, hard-boiled, implicit, in action, in operation, matter-of-
fact, nuts and bolts, operative, orderly, possible, practicable, pragmatic, rational,
reasonable, sane, sensible, serviceable, sober, solid, sound, systematic, unidealistic,
unromantic, usable, utile, utilitarian, virtual, workable, workaday, working
• Speculative – theoretical
Synonyms: abstract, analytical, assumed, conceptive, dangerous, dicey,
experimental, formularized, hairy, hazardous, hypothetical, ideal, idealized,
ideological, iffy, in theory, intellectual, logical, notional, philosophical, presumed,
risky, uncertain, unproven, unsubstantiated
• Why does critical thinking matter?
Being aware of the potential limits of universalizable truth claims (knowledge
qua knowledge), humanities scholars often work to critique, problematize, re-
consider, and question structures, ideals, ideologies, and theories. Construction still
takes place, but the relation is often one of deconstruction.
• Consider this in light of the UofT Mission Statement, above
• What does it mean to think critically in this kind of educational
• A greater understanding of the world, its different groups of people, their
histories, the way they interact
Knowledge, equality, and justice
• Training of the imagination
The humanities try to provide a systematic and clear account of what is deemed
important in the world, such as questions pertaining to reality and human existence.
They have value much more broadly in making lives that are rich in meaning and in
illuminating aspects of the world that would otherwise remain hidden.
Ideology • sets of ideas which give some account of the social world, usually a partial
and selective one;
• the relationship of these ideas or values to the ways in which power is
• the way that such values are usually posed as “natural”, “obvious”, and
“common sense” rather than socially produced
• Ideology is the sets of beliefs underlying the customs, habits, and practices
common to a given culture
To members of that culture, the beliefs seem obviously true, natural, and
They may seem obviously arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and false to those who adhere
to another ideology
Within any culture, numerous ideologies coexist; some are marginalized, others
are hegemonic, i.e. dominant and the cultural norm.
All ideologies are inflected by power relationships, within and among
Ideologies may be forcefully imposed or willingly subscribed to
Their component beliefs may be held consciously or unconsciously
They govern our perceptions, judgments, and prejudices—our sense of what
is acceptable, normal, and deviant
Ideology causes revolutions; it maintains the status quo; it also allows
discrimination, marginalization and exploitation
• Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others
• Ideologies become hegemonic when they are adopted by the dominant class
in a given society
Cultural Hegemony: occurs within a pervasive system of assumptions, meanings,
and values that shapes the way things look, what they mean, and therefore what
reality is for the majority of people within a given culture
• Cultural hegemony is how dominant culture maintains its
It does so through persuasive and coercive means
through the use of institutions to formalize power
the employment of a bureaucracy to make power seem abstract (and therefore
not attached to any one individual)
the persuasion of the populace to accept the ideals of the hegemonic group
through education, advertising, television programming, the Web, and so on
• Examples of Ideologies: Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Libertarianism,
Liberalism, Conservatism – Any formative construct which defines a
considerable group of citizens
• This is problematic: it leads to over-simplification of the individuals
which make up these categories and groups • Ideologies become hegemonic the moment they become dominant in a
• Capitalism is the hegemonic ideology of the West, as is
• It is very difficult for us to conceive of realistic approaches to
social relations and politics outside of these two constructs
• Alternatives that are offered are generally ridiculed, or deemed
deeply dangerous (e.g. Capitalism v. Socialism)
A system of economics or exchange without a profit motive seems foreign and
unrealistic, because it is so far removed from the way we are taught to see the world
• Adorno: “Conformity has replaced consciousness”
• The “Culture Industry”: popular culture is akin to a factory producing
standardized cultural goods that are used to manipulate mass
society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular
culture, made available by mass media, renders people docile and
content, regardless of their social status.
• (adapted from:
• “The concoctions of the culture industry are neither guides for a
blissful life, nor a new art of moral responsibility, but rather
exhortations to toe the line, behind which stand the most powerful
• An endless reproduction of the same
• Evgeny Morozov (“Are We Becoming Cyborgs?”) asks whether internet
activism “will displace other forms of activism, and whether people will think
they’re campaigning for something very important when they are in fact
joining online groups that have very little relevance in the political world –
and which their governments are actually very happy with. Many
authoritarian governments I document in the book are perfectly O.K. with
young people expressing discontent online, so long as it doesn’t spill out into
• Definition 1: To take or fill the place of
• To represent means to stand in for something. You represent your
team, your neighbourhood, your university; it means to faithfully
carry the identity of an area or group, to do it with honour, and to
make others aware
• Definition 2: To symbolize (something abstract or intangible, as a
quality, concept, etc.), to stand in the place of; to signify, denote
• Representation insists that there is a real world—something to be re-
presented through representation—but this is always mediated by
• Representations are therefore always partial
• A representation can never be the thing-in-itself • Definition 3: To act as a symbolic sign or substitute for (a person or
thing); to symbolize, stand for, or embody
• There are always issues of power and control in representations
• We must always ask: Who is responsible for the representation?
• What is the agenda?
• How something is represented matters
• To what extent are representations of groups typical of how those
groups are in society?
• In what ways are all representations stereotypes?
• Definition 4: To bring clearly and distinctly before the mind or
imagination; to describe, evoke, conjure; to imagine, conceptualize