Shanghai Jiao Tong University has always been emphasizing liberal arts education. As early as 1908, SJTU set up the Department of Humanities. Professor Tang Wenzhi, then president of the university, pioneered in teaching special tones of reading Chinese poetry, known as the Tang Tones, a precious intellectual heritage. Many famous professors including Gu Hongming, Cai Yuanpei, Zhang Yuanji, Fu Lei, Li Shutong, Huang Yanpei and Shao Lizi, either studied or taught at the Department respectively.

After many rounds of restructuring and reforming, SJTU set up the Department of Social Sciences and Engineering as well as the Department of Literature and Art in 1985, which came to be the basis of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1997.

In 2003, it was transformed into the School of Humanities.

In 2015, the School of Humanities was merged with the School of International Education to form the new School of Humanities, aiming at promoting the internationalization of liberal arts education.

In 2019, the Institute of Arts and Humanities joined the School of Humanities, representing the new stage and direction of its development.