photo source: Melissa L. Miller, USC Hoose Library of Philosophy in MHP
The liberal arts can be divided into the physical science, the social sciences, and the humanities. The humanities include the academic disciplines of philosophy, religion, languages and literatures, linguistics, history, and the arts. The arts include the visual arts, drama, and music. The humanities are those academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical perspective. In both the social sciences and the physical sciences, the empirical method is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Recording of one's direct observations or experiences can be analyzed quantitatively, as most of the research in the biological and natural sciences demonstrates, or qualitatively, that is often used by the social sciences. The methodology employed by humanities is not singular. Indeed, each subject area has contributed a methodology. History, which can be considered both a social science and a humanities, uses the historical method; philosophy uses conceptual analysis or phenomenology, religion and languages and literature use methodologies derived from textual criticism.
This Guide will conclude with a unified methodology that Dr. Ross Scimeca and Dr. Robert Labaree refer to as the synoptic method that may be useful for not only the humanities but also for the more humanistic social sciences, such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology.
This Humanities Research Strategies Guide was co-authored by Dr. Ross Scimeca and Dr. Melissa L. Miller.
The historical method is the oldest of the four methodologies used in the humanities. What this methodology attempts to do is look at a given period of time that is first defined and temporally delineated, and then analyze texts and recorded events within that perspective.
Textual criticism is strictly concerned with the analysis of a given text regardless of discipline. It is used primarily in literature, i.e., literary criticism, and in the nineteenth century, the “higher criticism” in Biblical studies yield hermeneutics.
Conceptual elucidation has really always been in the domain of philosophy. Since ancient times, e.g., Plato’s dialogues and the texts of Aristotle, the principle concern was and still is the analysis of abstract concepts. In the early twentieth century, both logic (Bertrand Russell) and the study of ordinary language use (Ludwig Wittgenstein) would give additional weight to this methodology.
Lastly, the synoptic method is an attempt to look at the origin and development of an idea or concept from various disciplinary perspectives.. The synoptic method is not concerned with the truth or falsehood of an idea or concept, like conceptual elucidation, but strictly how a given idea or concept emerged and evolved within various disciplines to increase human knowledge.