The Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators


For the purposes of this set of Indicators, the authors have developed a standard usage of the term “humanities.” The following disciplines are included within that standard usage:

  • Academic Study of the Arts: Art history; the study of music, musicology, music theory and composition, and music history; the academic study of drama and cinema, but not programs primarily aimed at musical performance or music technologies.
  • American Studies & Area Studies: Though some of these programs include strong social scientific components, their emphasis on history, language, and literature places them within the humanities.
  • Archeology
  • Communication: Includes mass communication, media studies, and rhetoric, but excludes professionally-oriented programs.
  • Cultural, Ethnic, & Gender Studies: Programs studying from an interdisciplinary perspective race, ethnic, gender, or cultural groups, such as Black studies, Hispanic studies, women’s studies, gender studies.
  • English Language and Literature: English, American, and Anglophone literature; general literature programs; creative writing; speech and rhetoric (does not include technical and business writing programs).
  • History: Includes history of science and medicine.
  • Languages & Literatures Other than English : Modern languages and literature; linguistics; classics and ancient languages; comparative literature.
  • Jurisprudence: Includes philosophy of law.
  • Philosophy: Includes history of philosophy.
  • Religion: Programs in the comparative, nonsectarian study of religion; studies of particular religions; history of religion; does not include programs in theology or ministry.
  • Selected Interdisciplinary Studies: General humanities programs; programs in the study of a particular historical period (e.g., medieval and Renaissance studies, classical and ancient studies, holocaust studies, etc.).

Deviation from the Standard Usage

The organizations and studies from which indicator data are drawn may include different disciplines within the humanities. For example, some count all theology and ministry courses as humanities instruction; others class history as one of the social sciences; still others assume all general education to be humanistic. When a chart or section deviates from the standard usage of humanities adopted for these Indicators, this is clearly noted and the nature of the discrepancy between the two usages is described.

Categorizing Social Sciences as Humanities or Non-Humanities Disciplines

Although political science, government, geography, anthropology, and sociology may, from certain perspectives, be considered humanistic social sciences, for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators, they are categorized as non-humanities disciplines. Interdisciplinary studies that link a predominantly social science perspective with humanities disciplines are also considered non-humanities studies. Such categories may be included in future editions of the Indicators.

Categorizing Non-Humanities Fields

In many parts of the Indicators, comparisons are made between the humanities and non- humanities fields. The disciplines included within such non-humanities fields are inventoried below:

Natural Sciences

In the categorization used by the Humanities Indicators, the natural sciences consist of the following subfields:

  • Physical sciences (astronomy, chemistry, geology, physics, etc.);
  • Life sciences (zoology, botany, molecular bioscience, etc.--excludes agricultural science);
  • Mathematics and statistics (although these are occasionally treated separately, as in the tabulations of Advanced Placement tests taken in various fields); and
  • Interdisciplinary science fields combining the above, such as biophysics.

The term “natural sciences” as used here does not include technology, engineering, or computer science. In separating the natural sciences from these fields, we depart from some other systems of categorization, most notably that employed by The National Science Foundation’s Science & Engineering Indicators.

Medical Sciences

Drawing from the definition adopted by the National Science Foundation, “medical sciences” include general medicine and all medical specialties, along with dentistry, veterinary science, pharmacy, public health, and epidemiology.

Behavioral & Social Sciences

For the purposes of the Indicators, the social sciences encompass the following fields: anthropology, criminology, economics, geography, government, international relations, political science, psychology, sociology, and urban studies. For the purposes of determining the number of degrees awarded in these fields, public administration is also included, since this is combined with political science within the National Science Foundation classification of academic disciplines (please see Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree- Related Indicators for more information about this classification system).


The Humanities Indicators includes the full array of engineering fields, as well as computer science, under this heading.

Fine & Performing Arts

This category includes all arts-related fields not included in the definition of the humanities, including music and dance performance, dramatic and film production, and studio arts.

Social Service Professions

This category encompasses all types of social work.


The education category includes instruction and pedagogy in all subject areas, as well as special education and education administration.


This category includes the legal professions and, for the purposes of degree counts, undergraduate pre-law programs. While jurisprudence, defined as the theory and philosophy of law, is treated by the Humanities Indicators as a humanities field, it is usually impossible to distinguish between jurisprudence and preparation for legal professions within the classificatory frameworks utilized by the entities that collect the data serving as the basis of the Indicators.

Business and Management

Included under this field heading are business administration and economics, nonprofit/public management, and accounting.

The Humanities in American Life

The indicators dealing with the humanities in American life focus on humanistic activity as part of everyday life and the workings of institutions that:

  • strive to promote the intellectual development and lifelong education of citizens;
  • respond to the need, in a democracy, for programs that help citizens more fully understand their nation's government, history, culture, and principles; and/or
  • promote citizen reflection on ways of responding to the world.

Competencies and activities that currently are or may in the future be addressed under the heading of “The Humanities in American Life” include: reading and creative writing; discussions of literature at public libraries; debating civic, ethnic, and community issues at public fora; and transmission of humanistic inquiry and scholarship via television programming, mass-market publications, interpretation at archaeological sites, and explorations of music and theater performance.

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