Press Release

Americans and the Humanities: New Data, New Insights


A major new report released from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences reveals new information about how Americans engage in the humanities and what their views are on the personal, societal, and economic benefits of the humanities. The survey provides rare insight into how the American public feel about pursuits such as studying or participating in activities related to art history, languages, literature, history, and philosophy.

The survey, administered a year ago to a representative sample of more than 5,000 American adults, finds that history is the most popular discipline within the humanities and that while most Americans think humanistic studies help us understand other people and strengthen our democracy, a majority also think the humanities attract elitist and pretentious people.  The work was led by the Academy’s Humanities Indicators project, undertaken by NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“For decades, scholars and advocates in the humanities have wondered what the public thinks about the field,” said Academy President David Oxtoby. “The survey answers many of their questions and shows substantial engagement in an array of endeavors and broad support for the benefits that accrue to us as individuals and as members of a diverse democracy.”

Alongside the attitudinal questions, the findings also point to substantial engagement in a wide range of humanities activities both at home (led by watching shows with historical content), and in the workplace, as almost one-third of Americans responded that they had been hampered at work due to a deficiency in one or more humanities skills, even though many Americans don’t think they “need” humanities skills in the workplace.

Today’s release includes the survey report; a visual summary of the results (with infographics); and discipline-specific analyses for art and art history, history, languages other than English, literature and reading, philosophy, and religious studies.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1780, is both an honorary society that recognizes and celebrates the excellence of its members and an independent research center convening leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges.

The Humanities Indicators is an initiative of the Academy to provide a database of statistical information to help researchers and policymakers to gain a better understanding of the humanities in the areas of education, employment, and public life.

Contact: Robert B. Townsend
Phone: (571) 730-8517

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Humanities Indicators

Norman Marshall Bradburn and Robert B. Townsend

Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences

Richard H. Brodhead and John W. Rowe