Why diversity matters in the study of humanities
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Humans have made great strides since the darker ages wrought with war, plague and death. The average member of our species lives far longer in less poverty, more peace and in better health than any ancestors before us. Our World in Data reveal that as a species, we are more literate and boast far greater access to powerful technology.

It’s been a good run, and something that wouldn’t have been possible without the focus given to the study of humanities.

While the sciences often get the attention for their contribution to the creation of penicillin or the internet and the likes, it would be foolish to dismiss the humanities just yet. After all, it is this very field that provides the moral compass to our innovations and has helped us overcome individual and collective demons.

For the field’s biggest victories – from the genius of film students like Martin Scorsese to the movement of academics pushing for the formation of the European Union (2012 Nobel Peace Prize winner) – we owe our thanks to the multidisciplinary approach of humanities study.

The Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki is acutely aware of this fact. Its commitment to diversity in the organisation and selection of disciplines is obvious; here, students can pursue a degree in six Bachelor’s and 17 Master’s programmes.

Source: University of Helsinki

Take, for example, a subject as specialist as Russian Studies. Teaching for this subject can easily be one-dimensional, focusing solely on the nation on and of its own while failing to branch out from the usual emphasis of language, history and culture alone.

But this isn’t the case at Helsinki. For the international MA programme in Russian Studies, teachers come from different disciplines to teach a curriculum that guides students to adopt a global perspective. Russia isn’t studied as a detached entity, isolated from the rest of the world. Instead, Russia is considered a “vital actor in globally-shared challenges,” according to programme Director Sari Autio-Sarasmo, so students learn how to understand complex global processes and their influence on Russia.

“In the programme, Russia is placed in a global context and the curriculum is designed to be multidisciplinary. The courses are focusing on themes such as security and power; environment and climate; inequality and resilience; culture and identity,” says Autio-Sarasmo.

While many universities offer students a multidisciplinary approach to their study, Helsinki embeds it straight into the structure of their qualifications. The Bachelor of Arts programmes include several study tracks (for example, the Bachelor’s Programme in Languages includes study tracks in English, French, German, etc.). This means students study both their discipline and another, as well as language, communication and IT studies.

For the MA Programme in English Studies, learners can incorporate subjects offered both at Helsinki and other universities under the Flexible Study Rights initiative, according to programme Director, Anna Solin.

“Studying outside the scope of your own discipline opens up new ways of thinking and understanding the world. Unique combinations of disciplines may give you skills that only a few others have, and it may be crucial for your career opportunities,” says Solin.

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Meanwhile, for students of Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age (LingDA), the programme gets “interdisciplinary from the very start,” as described by Matti Miestamo, who leads the programme.

“The students will choose one track after the first term, but the first term is common to all, and the perspectives of the four study tracks are integrated in all courses of the first term,” he explains. “The study tracks are: General Linguistics, Language Technology, Phonetics, Diversity Linguistics.”

Some may scoff at the idea of philosophy majors delving into a subject like mathematics, oblivious as to how quadratic equations would ever be applied in their future job as a fast food cashier. It’s a tired stereotype now, as more and more arts and humanities graduates become increasingly in demand in a growing number of sectors.

A humanist’s set of cognitive skills – analytical thinking, creativity, the application of information, and argumentation expertise – are what businesses and even Silicon Valley tech titans are looking for today. Building a new ride-hailing app or managing supply chains increasingly need the know-how of humanists, ie. what humans want and need.

Studying the arts and humanities – be it through European and Nordic Studies or Intercultural Encounters – in a multidisciplinary manner, like at Helsinki’s Faculty of Arts, means students walk out of campus gates with this cherished skillset.

To add to this, they also obtain the benefit of another esteemed aspect of the faculty: its people.

With a student body originating from places like Peru to Italy, classes and the university experience benefit from beliefs and interactions from different classes, ethnicities and backgrounds. As the world becomes smaller and workplaces routinely transcend national borders, the years spent in Helsinki’s multicultural campus will likely be of help to graduates in their future careers.

Source: University of Helsinki

Its Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters (ICE), for example, places an emphasis on professional and career development opportunities. Studies in Professional Contexts carry 15 credits, and for example the Career Clinic is compulsory. Funding is available for internships and lecturers support student competencies in international networking and practical work-life skills.

Saila Poutiainen, Director for the ICE programme explains the importance of crossing disciplinary boundaries, not just in the pursuit of knowledge, but also for the sake of students’ future careers:

“To cross disciplinary boundaries is similar to crossing intercultural boundaries. In the ICE Programme, students learn and want to do both. In both kinds of “crossings” it is vital to analyse the encounters, understand and appreciate the differences and similarities, and aim at dialogue.”

“The aim is to provide solid building blocks for international and intercultural work and careers.”

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