Humanities Definition: What are the Humanities?

Humanities Definition: Study and Interpretation of Literature, History and More

"What are the humanities?" and how are they explored by South Dakota Humanities Council? The most complete answer to the first question comes from a humanities definition written in 1965.

The humanities mean different things to different people. But we are fond of the completeness and accuracy of this humanities definition from the National Endowment on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, as amended:

"The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."

SDHC Humanities Programming

This humanities definition is a basis for the mission carried out by the South Dakota Humanities Council, which is to celebrate literature, promote civil conversation, and tell the stories that define our state. SDHC's vision is to lead statewide advocacy for the humanities, working with other partners to foster literary and civic engagement.

SDHC receives funding from donations and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides annual support for 56 states and territories to help support some 56,000 lectures, discussions, exhibitions and other programs each year for various organizations and state councils, including the South Dakota Humanities Council. Learn more about these programs by subscribing to our e-newsletter below

Humanities Examples

What are some examples of the humanities in action and what is the purpose of the humanities? Tangible examples like these will help you understand why these studies are important. 

Humanities Examples:

How Does SDHC Explore the Humanities?

We do this by supporting and promoting public programming in the humanities; providing grant funding for community programs and research and discussion projects; carrying out the mission of the South Dakota Center for the Book (established by the Library of Congress in 2002) through reading and literacy programs and the annual South Dakota Festival of Books.

The South Dakota Festival of Books brings readers and writers who are interested in the humanities together for book discussions, presentations and more.

Who is Humanities Programming Designed for? 

The short answer: everyone!

SDHC draws a wide variety of readers and writers who typically share the common interest of learning about humanness and defining the human condition. Many SDHC devotees are simply readers who love to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books and learn more about their favorite authors.

Since the humanities are considered a part of the liberal arts, people who have completed or are pursuing a degree in liberal arts or humanities are drawn to the South Dakota Humanities Council and associated humanities programming.

However, the SDHC's core audience is far from limited to liberal arts majors or humanities majors.

While plenty of writers and humanities majors are drawn to our organization, anyone interested in exploring the human condition will find something to their liking among the various programs offered by the South Dakota Humanities Council and other humanities organizations around the U.S.

There are numerous ways to get involved in SDHC programming. 


SDHC, known for its signature South Dakota Festival of Books, funds grant activities such as lectures, literature discussions, scholarly research, film screenings and more.

South Dakota Humanities Council awards grants to non-profit organizations that promote humanities in South Dakota through our community project grants. To download a grant application, click here

Grants are competitive. All projects must advance the mission of the South Dakota Humanities Council and promote the humanities in American public life. Major grants allow 501(c)(3) organizations in South Dakota to fill educational and cultural gaps and support communities' self-identified needs and programs fitting two categories: discussion (up to $7,000) and research projects (up to $2,500).

Discussion Grants
A Discussion Grant can fund public presentations such as conferences, lectures, presentations, festivals, and symposiums which engage the general public and scholar in a discussion of the humanities. The focus of the program should examine the topic from the view and perspective of the humanities.

Discussion programs can also contain a media element, for example potential projects include documentary films, radio and television productions, exhibits, website and social media projects, mobile web applications and humanities-related books or e-books.

These projects would encourage discussion in the humanities and utilize unique forms of media to advance the humanities. If a media program is approved, a contract covering copyright, distribution, credits, and disclaimers signed by the grantee is required. Discussion requests cannot exceed $7,000.

Research Grants
A Research Grant supports work to encourage scholarly research in the humanities, especially topics relevant to South Dakota culture and heritage. Applicants must include a plan for a minimum of three public presentations of the research. Requests cannot exceed $2,500.

Speakers' Bureau

The SDHC Speakers Bureau is an excellent example of how the study of humanities is used to educate the public on what it means to be human. 

A slate of 70 speakers with the SDHC's Speakers Bureau offers a depth of topics that groups across South Dakota can bring to their communities.

The Council supports nearly 150 Speakers Bureau events annually, across a range of humanities-related subjects.

South Dakota Humanities Council Speakers Bureau scholars partake in humanities studies, examining a broad array of topics including philosophy, cultural environments, literature history, and humanness as it applies to languages and arts.

Each speaker offers a specialized program, and many speakers offer multiple programs. Some presentations are specific to the South Dakota and Northern Plains experiences, while others explore greater themes of society and the human experience.

Book Club to Go and Book Club Kits

The South Dakota Humanities Council offers a packaged reading program for book clubs organized by individuals, libraries, book stores, museums, and other non-profit organizations.

For a $50 application fee, Book Club to Go includes up to 30 copies of any title from the council's lending library and an SDHC scholar to lead a book discussion for the group. Groups can choose from more than 30 titles.

Our discussion leaders and lending library provide yet another avenue for studying humanities and literature and engaging in meaningful discussions. Participants learn more about books, authors and each other. 

Festival of Books

Vietnam War novelist Tim O'Brien shows South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Fritz Miller where O'Brien served in the Vietnam War on a map in Exhibitors' Hall at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

Vietnam War novelist Tim O'Brien shows South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Fritz Miller where O'Brien served in the Vietnam War on a map in Exhibitors' Hall at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

The South Dakota Humanities Council created the South Dakota Festival of Books to unite readers and writers with presentations, autograph sessions, poetry readings and more.

Now in its 15th year, the Festival of Books is the state's premier literary event, having featured authors such as National Book Award winners Louise Erdrich and Michael Dirda, former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and Newbery Medal-winning children's author Kate DiCamillo. The event is held annually on alternating sides of the state.

Where to Begin? 

If you are just getting interested in the humanities and want to learn more about the South Dakota Humanities Council, we suggest reading the latest issue of our Program Catalog, which provides additional information about grant programs, reading discussion kits, the South Dakota Festival of Books, and more.

Also, to see the impact of the humanities in action, check out the excellent collection of essays from SDHC board members, Festival of Books authors and other humanities advocates featured in our "Why the Humanities?" series on the South Dakota Humanities Council blog

For current information about the South Dakota Humanities Council and our work in the humanities, subscribe to our blog and e-newsletter below. 

Event Calendar

9:00 am | Lake Area Technical College Student Center
9:00 am | Lake Area Technical College Student Center