The term “humanities” was used in the mediaeval universities of Europe to indicate the study of the Latin language and literature. It comprises the secular side of education as contradistinguished from the theological side – divinity and humanities being the two main faculties in a mediaeval university.
It gradually covered a wider field, but emphasis continued to be laid for a long time on classical literature and language, and even as late as the 19th century this was the main emphasis. It was in France that les humanities was formally recognised, and was meant perhaps to suggest a haughty aloofness from the sciences which were related altogether to a lower category of study.
Humanities was meant to be more intimately connected to the human side of education, hence its relative importance was the greater. The sciences were utilitarian, but the humanities fostered the human and humane qualities, and thus contributed to the growth of man. Hence, the study of humanities was seen as essential to a liberal education – education that liberalised the mind of man. Naturally, it assumed a dominant position in our education system, which it enjoys to a large extent in the older university foundations.
Truly, in contemporary universities, the study of the sciences is given a larger space because of their indispensable character. But it is being appreciated more and more that an exclusive or even predominant attention to the sciences would have a somewhat lopsided effect on the development of the human personality. The importance of science was stretched, to the point that bigger tecnological universities in some developed countries attempted to scrap subjects like literature, philosophy, logic and history, considered to be basic humanities subjects.
At any rate the study of the humanities is today reckoned an essential part of real education. It is appreciated increasingly that in a truly liberal system of education, the humanities and the empirical sciences cannot exist apart except in the highest stages where specialisation is required.
How then is the study of humanities important? Certainly familiarity with the great masters of human thought and expression was a sort of catalytic or constant action on the mind of the student. It widens the mental horizon, invigorates the capacity to think and enriches the intellectual content. A mind so trained is more efficient and capable of tackling human problems by recalling unconsciously from the vast storehouse of human experiences.
Study of humanities has also the effect of refining manners and giving it a certain dignity and poise. It has the added value of softening and making man pliant in his daily dealings with his fellow. The humanities are the proper corrective of both the brutal and the banal and one whose mind is suitably trained on them can hardly be ill-bred or boring in the company of others.
It is, however, necessary to point out that the humanities possess natural attractiveness and for this reason it is not impossible to make too much of their excellence. That would be surely bad. Exclusive or excessive pre-occupation with humane studies may make man a dreamer and a visionary, and lose his grip on the firm realities of life. After all, in the modern world no man can ignore the basic factors of life which depend on the knowledge of science, and whatever tends to develop an aversion or indifference to these must be severely discouraged.
Hence, in a proper scheme of education, while emphasis must be laid on science, technology and the professional subjects, room must be found in each curriculum of studies for the humanities in our higher institutions in order to act as correctives. It is imperative for students of humanities in our nation’s universities to be considered for scholarship awards to study within or outside the country like their counterparts in the sciences. Over-emphasis on science results in loss of moral values in most societies which eventually creates moral problems.
The ultimate aim of education is to create a balanced personality, which can be done only if the faculties are developed harmoniously. Lopsidedness whether physical or mental, is either grotesque or monstrous. Hence, in our universities accentuation should continue to be laid on the study of the humanities in order to fulfil the purpose and the end of a truly liberal education.