Monday, May 6, 2013

More on Why We Need the Humanities

A group of scholarly experts gathered at Harvard University recently to discuss the importance of the humanities for the future/fate of the globe.  Here is a synopsis from an article on the event in the Harvard Gazette:

Homi Bhabha (Harvard): "said he prefers the word 'future' rather than 'fate' when talking about the humanities. 'Yet, the crisis is real,' he added, 'and it is global.'"

Diana Sorenson (Harvard): "They are good for training citizens who need to understand our complex world before plunging into action."

Lawrence Bacow (Tufts University):  "Both the deficit debate and climate change raise ethical questions about what we owe future generations, he said, and current wars are largely conflicts over the direction modernity should take. 'We lose as institutions,' said Bacow, 'when we fail to engage our colleagues in the humanities.'"

Stefan Collini (Cambridge University): "Worry over the humanities, he said, is a 'placeholder for anxieties' about the fate of universities at large, whose traditional role — creating knowledge for the sake of knowledge — is increasingly under fire in a utilitarian world."

Sheldon Pollock (Columbia University):  "In a world now so focused on solving problems, it is the business of the humanities to make problems, by asking ontological and even existential questions. The result, he said, is that in the universities of today, 'humanists are typically pushed right to the margins.'"

Lynn Hunt (UCLA): "Among the discontented are lawmakers wary of a mode of learning that doesn’t seem utilitarian, and families frustrated by rising student debt."

I found it a bit disturbing that all of these "experts" were from elite institutions.  I am guessing that the humanities will not be disappearing anytime soon from Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, Cambridge, or UCLA.   Yet the so-called "crisis" that these scholars mention is very real, if not threatening, at smaller colleges who need to be utilitarian in order to survive, schools without an elite profile or large endowment, or public institutions in places like North Carolina or Florida.