Humanities study every means and media that allow human beings to establish a distance to their lives by exploring with a variety of languages what being in the world means. The corner stone of the humanities is the study of artificial things like books, paintings, the cinema, as they explore new ways to represent, symbolize, produce meaning. But the Humanities also look at all artificial things in so much as they embed a reflection on the world.
The Humanities consider artificial things as documents organizing our understanding and reflection about the world. They look at the “traces that a culture or an individual may leave behind them” (Foucault) as a text for us to interpret. The Humanities look at how and why documents/media are produced, circulated, understood.
The humanities have built a series of methods to tackle the issue of meaning making ranging on a diversity of media. They tackle the question of languages: semantics, syntax, pragmatics. Originally, they studied literature and poetry, visual and plastic arts with a concern for the structure, composition, medium. They introduced formal analyses on styles and genres. Today, they use semiotics either formal or pragmatic to encompass non linguistic meaning making media, including artefacts that are not specifically dedicated to sending or receiving a message and communicating.
The humanities are critical in so far as they look at the repetitive nature of meaning making practices but also at what makes some of them unique.