Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Humanities Outside the Academy Are Doing Just Fine

The humanities are thriving outside of the academy.  We have heard this argument from public historians and public humanities before, but it is always good to hear it again.  

Check out Ralph Lewin's  recent post at Public History Commons.  It is yet another (good) reminder for humanities scholars to bridge the gap between the academy and the public.  

Perhaps it is time to revisit this idea

Here is a taste of Lewin's post:

Although faculties in academia are skeptical and discouraged today, there is an opportunity to use the energy, will, and hopes of students to turn around the fateful crisis of humanities departments. This might mean changing the way we educate humanities students. I recently spoke to humanities graduate students from across the University of California system about their future work prospects. The conversation was tough because many of them had been focused on getting their doctorates, so they had been removed from the broader workforce for four to ten years. Sure, they had developed critical thinking and writing skills, as well as the ability to consider a diversity of opinions and ask the right questions. However, when an employer reads their resume, the person who had been in graduate school will often be seen as overqualified, or worse, out of touch. We know that only 40% of these graduate students will go on to tenure-track positions, the rest, a great majority, will do other things. Can we see this as an advantage rather than a failure?
Why can’t we in the humanities acknowledge this massive change and construct systems that prepare our students for what a majority of them will do – work outsides the confines of academia? In other words, why can’t we organize humanities education so that our best and brightest learn about work outside of academia – at a state humanities council, public television or radio station, a high tech start-up geared to learning, a museum or theater company? Why are we in the humanities reluctant to connect outside of the university?
The fate of the humanities is in our hands. Communities are doing their part to host humanities programs to increase individual and communal understanding of the power of the humanities. Academia should do its part to support interested individuals, scholars, and students working beyond the walls of academia. Without this support, both society and the humanities will suffer. With communities and academia working together, we can reach forward to a new age of the humanities in our society. This is the kind of effort that makes life worth living and will ultimately save the humanities.