The Faculty of Humanities is by far the largest Faculty at Rhodes University.
Comprising 11 Academic departments, 2 Schools and 7 Affiliated Institutes, the Faculty is largely responsible for growth in student numbers at Rhodes over the past few years. Out of 8144 students currently registered at Rhodes university for 2020, 3476 (42.7%) of those are registered in the Humanities Faculty. 2860 of those are undergraduate students and 616 are postgraduate students (statistics recorded 13 March 2020).
The Faculty offers a rich variety of courses within four broad categories:
1. Arts (Fine Art, Drama, Music)
2. Languages (isiXhosa, English, Afrikaans, English Language and Linguistics, French, German, Latin, Greek)
3. Professional Offering (Journalism and Media Studies)
4. Social Studies (Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Political Studies, History, Philosophy)
The Faculty of Humanities offers a very wide range of possible degrees and course combinations. Students can major in Journalism and Politics, Classics and French, German, isiXhosa, Afrikaans or any other language offered, or Management and Industrial Sociology or Organisational Psychology, or Fine Art and History, or Information Systems and English or Philosophy and Anthropology, or Computer Science and Music, or Mathematics and Drama or Linguistics.
The Faculty offers an excellent liberal arts education - an education for life and an education which is formative for almost any career choice. A liberal arts education provides students with critical reasoning skills, in particular the ability to analyse and evaluate arguments, to probe for hidden assumptions, to organise complex material in coherent ways; with an ability to understand the views of others; the ability to communicate well; a capacity to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty; and an acknowledgement of one’s own ignorance. It is an education that introduces students to the formative moments of their histories, their societies and their identities. It allows students to enjoy the worlds of music and drama and literature and languages.
It opens worlds. It provides an education and not training. As such it provides students with the critical skills and characteristics which are so important for our individual and national development. All of the above may be combined with degrees or courses which are more immediately career oriented than the liberal arts education. Specialised degrees in Journalism or Fine Art or Music are offered, but all within the context of a broader rather than a technical education.
By Professor Louise Vincent, Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University
Poetry, philosophy, sculpture, dance, history, politics, anthropology, ethics, religion. If you have your heart set on studying any of these, chances are you're receiving a little heat from friends and family. They want to know what job you'll end up doing. What will these subjects "qualify" you as? How much will you earn? What will you know how to do?
Governments and research funders often ask similar questions. Why invest time and money in the study of the humanities at universities? In a world beset by pressing social problems — crime, poverty, environmental catastrophe, unemployment, disease — surely debating deep philosophical points of view, producing music, paintings or unearthing historical writings is an indulgence, an unaffordable luxury?
A listener eavesdropping on debates in the humanities quickly becomes infuriated. There seem to be no clear answers. Arguments go around in circles. What counts for "research" seems imprecise, exploratory, open-ended. Problems are posed even when everyone knows that no clear answer will be likely to emerge. Everyone is asking questions and solutions are thin on the ground. Even more infuriatingly, no one seems at all apologetic about this.
So what is the point, exactly? The humanities can be described as the way in which a society engages in conversation with itself. Our work is not about finding technical solutions to individual problems. We have bigger aims — to produce ethical and reflective citizens capable of adapting to change and leading in innovation because they are creative, lateral and critical thinkers.
We are interested in reading, understanding, interpreting and debating the best that has been said, written and thought about throughout human endeavour. And yes, we don't apologise for thinking that it is quite an important thing to want to do, especially if you can learn to do it well: with insight and a heightened critical awareness. These are hard things to learn. They require excellent, enthusiastic and highly skilled teaching.
We can, if we must, put our usefulness into instrumental language. The capacities that are developed in an education in the humanities are what might be called "higher-order literacy" competencies. The time we live in has been described as the age of "information" implying that vast quantities of information move quickly around the world and drive policies, scientific innovation, business plans, development initiatives and the like.
Who would we propose should be responsible for interpreting, summarising and critically engaging with this information? Who is competent to evaluate the sources of information, to synthesise it to render its essence, to compare and contrast it with other information and to suggest authoritatively what it all means? Who, if not the graduate of English literature, art history, political studies, philosophy, history or anthropology?
Knowledge is not only about technological innovation; it is also about being able to make informed choices about priorities and the impact of technology on human lives. The problem of HIV/Aids, for instance, is not simply a medical problem that will be addressed with a technical solution. We can see from the differential impact the virus has had in differing social and political contexts that it is also a social and political problem; addressing the virus entails solutions that are informed by understanding human behaviour, political-decision making and so on.
Study in the humanities fosters understanding across barriers of race, class, gender or ethnicity. The vision of an artist, a philosopher or a historian is a special one that helps us to better understand who we are and what sort of life might be a good life to lead. In this way the humanities can be said to reveal ourselves to ourselves through the most profound means of communication we have available — music, literature, dance, poetry and philosophy.
We live in an age dominated by the demand for quick-fix solutions. But the enormity of the problems we face, whether it be global climate change, disease or poverty, are such that not only will quick-fix solutions not work, but they will also produce further harm. So it is imperative that we attract the brightest and the best to do the work that needs to be done in the humanities. And the families and friends of those who want to make a life doing this work should be celebrating and honour that choice.