Oh, the Humanities

I am thoroughly and completely a humanist, as far as my college education goes. The closest I’ve gotten to a course that involved any rigorous quantification was an upper level geometry class of four, with no work and no assessments, which the professor encouraged me to take so I could provide a little historical context about Euclid. Naturally, then, I take an active interest in conversations about the future of humanities in higher education, which have been particularly prevalent in the past two years.

Simply put, these conversations tend to concern the evolving (or not) nature of humanities education and the place of humanities departments in university budgets. Some scholars have spoken out against cuts to the humanities, as does this University of Minnesota professor in an impassioned three-minute appeal to her Board of Regents. Her basic, though perhaps not her best, point is a familiar one- that prioritizing higher revenue-generating programs should not disadvantage others. Is this convincing? It may actually be needless, as a UCLA professor explains. Responsibility-Centered Budgeting inquiries revealed that at his university, humanities programs generated revenue that significantly exceeded their operating costs.

How the humanities are funded might be a matter of urgency; how they continue to render themselves relevant and accessible is more curious, and more complex. Creating efficiencies with digital archives is imperative, but it’s not exactly news, which ReadWriteWeb seems to suggest. Humanities and media studies departments could shed a bit of their disciplinary insularity and address new areas of study together, or through dialogue, such as the cultural history of data visualization. Interdisciplinarity is nothing new either, though. Maybe more programs will choose to alter how they teach and assess; these projects from a Brown Digital Humanities course (created with Omeka) could become typical of history and literature classes.

None of these directions for humanities education are mutually exclusive. Perhaps looking at the humanities alone is misguided. As the President of Bennington College believes, all the liberal arts need a makeover (I suggest 10:15-12:47 for the most instructive part).