If you enjoy any of the humanities-based subjects, which range from the classics such as History and Geography to the more recent Citizenship and Sociology, then a GCSE in Humanities could be just what you need.

Humanities is an umbrella term which refers to those subjects which are concerned largely with humans; more specifically delving deep into culture, and how people express themselves within society.

As a result, you will encounter a broad spectrum of material if you decide to study a Humanities subject at GCSE level.

You’ll be able to gain a deeper appreciation of the history of humanity, how people interact with society, what makes a good citizen, and why people turn to religion.

This makes it a great subject area for anyone who is fascinated with human behaviour, and each individual’s motivations and roles on a societal and global scale.

What will I study in GCSE Humanities?

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Above everything else, the Humanities are concerned with humans and their interactions within society.

GCSE Humanities is a mixture of all of the humanities topics: History, Geography, Religious Education, Citizenship, and Sociology.

Each subject covers a different element of what it means to be human, whether that’s a retrospective look at where we’ve come from in History, or a current investigation into societal behaviour in Sociology.

There are so many real-world examples used in each of these Humanities subjects, so you will be able to analyse events with a critical eye, and build skills which can help you understand people better going forward.

Not only does each subject have real-world case studies and examples, but each one will challenge you in various ways and provide skills that will serve you well later in life.

If you’re keen to develop your public speaking skills for example, then the Humanities are some of the best subjects to consider, since you may find yourself taking to the stage to present your argument to the class or engage in a debate.

To give you a clear idea of what you can expect with each individual subject, we’re going to provide a brief overview of each, so you can make an informed decision when the time comes to choose a Humanities GCSE.

History

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History is a fascinating subject concerned with the past and how we used to live.

GCSE History requires you to think critically and analyse past events, and their connection to the modern day world.

You’ll go back as far as the Tudors and Normans, covering everything from the famous battle of 1066, to the much more recent Cold War as well as covering the British empire in great depth.

If you’ve ever been curious about how people used to live, and what lessons we can learn from past mistakes or breakthroughs, then a History GCSE could be right up your street.

The most common criticism of History is that it’s all been said and done already, so why dwell on the past?

Well, as famous Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius would often remind himself, ‘all of this has happened before’.

What you read about in History textbooks, as crazy and farfetched as some of it might sound, can be seen echoed in parts of the world today.

Even the global pandemic of 2020, which took the world by storm, isn’t something new and has happened many times before.

Geography

Geography is a subject for those fascinated with the physical environment and our interaction with it.

If you’re curious about how natural landscapes are formed, and the reasons behind worrying phenomena such as global warming, then consider a GCSE in Geography.

In this subject you’ll familiarise yourself with all kinds of natural processes that occur around the world, as well as how people tackle things like urban issues and the management of resources.

Religious Education

Religious Education provides a detailed examination of various religious traditions and schools, giving you a broad knowledge of religions around the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the most followed religions of the world, then this a great GCSE to consider.

You’ll learn all about the traditions and practises that are unique to each religion, as well as what overlaps between them.

Citizenship

Citizenship is all about democracy, law, and how government operates.

If you’re interested in developing a keen understanding of exactly how it is that countries are managed, and what it means to live in a democracy, then this is a top GCSE.

This will be especially interesting to anyone who’s pondered a career as a civil servant or lawyer, or is simply interested in what those occupations entail and how all the branches of government work.

Sociology

Sociology is one of the most recent of the Humanities subjects, and is concerned with all of the social structures which can be seen in pretty much any society.

This includes in-depth studies of the family unit, crime, and education in society.

If you’re keen to learn more about your place in society, as well as how every part of society functions, then Sociology is the GCSE for you.

It’s a great subject to study if you’re at all interested in people’s motivations within society, and what the glue is that holds it all together.

Why Study Humanities?

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Humanities offers the opportunity to learn how the world works as well as practical skills.

Now you have a better idea of what exactly Humanities encompasses at GCSE level, it’s time to address the all-important question - why study it?

Broad Field of Subjects

You’ll find a great deal of variety in the Humanities subjects. There’s bound to be something for you within Humanities, if you are at all interested in human lives and interaction.

If you choose to take multiple subjects within Humanities, then you set yourself in good stead to better understand the world we live in.

Some subjects will even have obvious overlaps with others.

For example, a module on Conflict and Co-operation would involve Citizenship, History, and Religious Education. This will open your eyes to the ways the humanities subject overlap and will prevent the subject from becoming stale or boring.

Relevance in Society

The Humanities have enormous relevance to today’s society.

Throughout these GCSE subjects you will cover topics concerning many contemporary issues such as “euthanasia, animal rights, crime and punishment and life after death” (AQA website).

So if you enjoy subjects with clear importance to life today you will find this a rewarding GCSE.

Flexibility

The GCSE Humanities are very flexible. You will have the opportunity to choose your own examples, case studies, and issues to focus on.

This will allow you to further your depth of knowledge on specific topics you’re particularly interested in and to develop an idea of which subjects you may want to pursue at a higher level.

If you study Geography for example, maybe you’ll lean more towards volcanos and rivers and choose one of these topics for a case study, instead of another aspect of the subject like resource management.

Or in History you can focus in on the period of time which is most interesting to you, so you can really get to know it in depth.

Different Styles of Learning

Each of the Humanities subjects at GCSE level encourages both group work and independent learning. 

You will not only participate in group projects but you will also be allowed to work independently to develop your decision-making skills.

Being able to work alone and cooperate with a group are both really important qualities!

If all you ever do is work alone with a pen and paper, you’re missing out the real-world benefits of collaborating with others on a project and hearing different perspectives on an issue.

It also makes the subject more entertaining to learn, since there’ll be plenty of variation in how you approach the material.

Engage with the Material

Most GCSEs in Humanities present the opportunity to participate in debates.

This is a potentially exciting activity that will improve the way you articulate your ideas and help you to develop your own opinions concerning world issues.

Even if you don’t feel confident enough to contribute very often, the process of listening to other people’s opinions will allow you to reflect on their viewpoints and develop your critical thinking skills.

They say that public speaking is one of the most useful skills to have in life, so if you can defend your point of view in a room full of people you’ll be setting yourself up well for your future career.

Wider Knowledge of the World

In every one of the GCSE Humanities subjects, you will gain a broad understanding of the world around you. 

Because the course covers historical topics, issues in today’s society, and ethical questions, by the end of the two years you will understand a variety of concepts, issues, and debates relevant to society and the world in general.

If any of the Humanities GCSEs sound like they might be right for you, consider talking to a teacher or tutor about your options.

Each subject is very rewarding in its own way, and you’ll feel like you’ve learned a lot by the end of the course.

Many students find GCSE Humanities an exciting, relevant, and flexible course. Good luck with choosing your GCSE options!

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Samuel

Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.