Wednesday, May 1, 2013

De-Disciplinizing the Humanities

Chris Buczinsky of Calumet College of St. Joseph (Whiting, IN) and Robert Frodeman of the University of North Texas think that the humanities have been held captive for too long by the so-called "Harvard model."  This model confines the humanities to particular disciplines and understands humanities scholarship in terms of monographs and academic papers.  Buczinsky and Frodeman believe that too many schools have followed the Harvard model and this has led to our current crisis in the humanities.

Frodeman, a philosopher, is helping to train North Texas graduate students in the humanities to work alongside scientists, engineers, and policy makers to address environmental problems.  He calls this "field philosophy."  Buczinsky is tapping into the Catholic mission of his college, training students to be "humanely educated citizens working to create a just society."

Here is a taste of their piece at Inside Higher Ed:

High-level humanistic scholarship will always have a place within the academy. But to limit the humanities to the Harvard model, to make scholarship rather than, say, public policy or social justice, the highest ideal of humanistic study, is to betray the soul of the humanities. To study the humanities, our students must learn textual skills, the scholarly operations of reading texts closely, with some interpretive subtlety. But the humanities are much more than a language game played by academic careerists.
Ultimately, the self-cultivation at the heart of the humanities aims to develop the culture at large. Unless they end up where they began -- in the marketplace, alongside Socrates, questioning, goading, educating, and improving citizens -- the humanities have aborted their mission. Today, that mission means finding teachers who have resisted the siren call of specialization and training undergraduate and graduate students in the humanities in the art of politics.

The humanist possesses the broad intellectual training needed to contextualize social problems, bring knowledge to bear on social injustice, and translate disciplinary insights across disciplines. In doing so, the humanist helps hold together an increasingly disparate and specialized society. The scholasticism of the contemporary academy is anathema to this higher calling of the humanities.