Humanities are the historic core of the liberal arts. Currently, they are the primary site within our academic structure for posing questions about meaning, value and ethics. The humanities and the skills learned through their study are thus necessary for both personal and professional success. Scholars across the humanities explore issues of meaning in the broadest sense, from philology to metaphysics, from the meaning of words, images and objects to the meaning of life. We ask questions about literary, artistic, and other kinds of value: what they mean, as well as how they are represented and come to be accepted by individuals and communities. We ask questions about value itself, what it means, and how else it has been thought about and might be conceived. As the social expression of these concerns, the humanities also focus on ethics and the implications of various systems of meaning and value. In these ways the Humanities introduce students to global perspectives on human experience through a rigorous study of the world's arts, cultures, and languages, and the diverse achievements of people who lived in other times and places.
In the broadest sense, then, the humanities ask questions about what it means to be human. As a result, among other things, we consider again and again the meaning and value of great works of art and culture from the past. And this perspective enriches and informs our appreciation and understanding of our contemporary moment.
Abilities and habits of thought learned in the humanities are important not only in decisions of personal consequence. They are also necessary for professional success as crucial elements in business and leadership decisions. For the humanities cultivate abilities of critical judgment, empathy, discernment and ethical reasoning that must play a role in even the most practical of decisions.
In 2009, a group of humanities faculty launched the Humanities Forum at Hamilton College under the auspices of the Dean of the Faculty. The Forum aims to bring Hamilton humanists together, to inform students of the value of the humanities, and to stimulate long-term reflection on the role of the humanities in our lives. Now entitled H@H (Humanities at Hamilton), the forum draws on Hamilton faculty as well as prominent thinkers in the field, and organizes an annual lecture series based on broad themes such as the problem of secularism in the Humanities today or translation. The series is funded by the College as well as endowed lecture funds. Even in its short life, this dynamic think tank has allowed faculty and students from disparate disciplines to engage in productive interdisciplinary conversations. H@H is currently establishing interdisciplinary working groups on campus, grants for student research, a website, an archive of faculty publications, and is taking the lead in a newly established First-Year Course curriculum at Hamilton.