Talking about the future of the humanities

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to give a talk that I had given at UNC in the fall about the importance of the humanities.  The main point of my talk is that the humanities are rich and dynamic and that there are new theories and new texts to teach, study and analyze.  Too often in the public discourse, there is this oversimplification that occurs that says that the humanities are Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the American revolution and that’s it.

I believe one of the roles that chancellors and provosts need to play in this is continuing to push against this temptation to continue to define the humanities in these antiquated terms.  The humanities are complex, vibrant, and nuanced, and I always try to point that out when I get the chance.

Some of my colleagues took issue with the point that I made that academic debates about the nature of the humanities are internal matters to academia.  I think this is a very interesting and important discussion in higher education.  One of the things that always strikes me is that when scientists have lengthy debates about highly technical points – such as whether birds evolved from dinosaurs or whether genetics would displace ecology – the general public generally doesn’t get drawn into such a discussion.  However, the public often engages and forms strong opinions about debates in the humanities.  An interesting point for discussion and I look forward to more with my colleagues here and elsewhere.  Of course, college professors debating things is a very important part of higher education.

I think a great guide to all this is Martha Nussbaum’s book Not for Profit, and there is an excellent video of her giving a lecture about the book.

Here is a link to the video of my lecture.

I look forward to continuing the conversation.

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One comment

  1. […] social sciences, and basic science.  (I try to do that – for example, here, here, here, and here – but always need to keep doing more.)  We’ve all got to work together if we’re […]

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