Hear It From An MA: Humanities FAQ


As a Humanities student, I hear certain statements and questions a lot. If you’ve ever wondered about the Humanities but never found a suitable person to talk to (we are after all a minority on campus, though a sizeable population at all events involving free food), here’s a light-hearted FAQ about the Humanities:

Why did you choose the Humanities?

As far as I can see, my only reason was that I read too much. I read any book I could lay my hands on. And the Humanities promised me a few years of doing just that – extensive and intensive reading. Of course, no one told me about the general feelings of disorientation, cluelessness about the future, and the lack of any marketable skill. All the programming I learnt I forgot long ago.

What do you study?

It might be easier to say what we don’t study. We keep far away from science, except for a bit of Mathematics (So if you’re looking to drop maths in college, it can’t be done. Unless you’re a Literature student, and that brings with it its own problems). We also generally keep away from commerce, feeling loftily that money is dross (a good idea, since there’s no chance of us obtaining a good bit of it in the foreseeable future). Music, dance and drawing are grandly titled ‘The Arts’. Apart from these, almost anything is fair game for the Humanities.

What will you do when you graduate?

Can you give me a job? No? Well then, my options seem to be divided between becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own line of highly successful home decorating products and doing another MA or a PhD, to postpone my entrance into the real world. Since I have no entrepreneurial skills that I can see, and the thought of a PhD. scares me ever since I read PhD. Comics, I simply have to admit that I’m left without the faintest idea of what I’ll do.

But what do you want to do?

Let’s see. On Mondays I think I’ll be a famous writer. After writing five pages of prose I retire to bed happy. On Tuesday I read over what I’ve written, shudder and decide that the civil services sounds a better draw. On Wednesday I look at the newspaper, decide that reading it everyday is more than I can bear, and switch to my first love, becoming a teacher. On Thursday I come across my old school photo, look at my classmates and remember what brats most of them were. The thought of teaching a roomful of brats repels me. On Friday… You get the picture.

You’re doing the Humanities? That’s so cool.

Thank you. Yes it is.

What is the point of the Humanities?

The Humanities is engaged in a tradition of finding answers to questions that are of core importance to who we are as humans. Chances are without philosophy we’d all be floating around in existential despair, or worse, living like sheep without a conception of things higher than ourselves. Psychology goes deep into why we behave the way we do. Sociology examines all the complexities of the social world around us and presents a worldview that to the new reader is full of startling, but true, insights. Those who do not know history, as the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it. Literature combines all the subjects above into a beautiful, creative, highly human field. If the unexamined life is not worth living, the Humanities provide us the tools we need to analyse our lives and live in a more aware way.

Humanities students don’t study at all. *snicker*

I admit that the engineering students have a greater workload in general than us MA students. In the Humanities the fundamental point is that the teachers don’t thrust work on you. They suggest books, guide you a little – but ultimately, it’s up to you whether to read and learn or not. Thus you might find some students who take it lightly and others who, due to some kink they can’t do anything about, enthusiastically read whatever they are supposed to, and a lot more than that. For these students, strangely, this doesn’t seem like work.

This is not an official FAQ of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras.

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