The Future of the Humanities: Cross-disciplinary, collaborative & engaged


Doesn’t this sound like the future of liberal arts and honors education more generally?

This is a collection of recent reflections on the potential and challenges of the humanities.

For some context, here is an interesting take on the future of human capital and higher education: The Once (but No Longer) Golden Age of Human Capital, Nancy Fobre (economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Economix: Explaining the Science of Everyday Life, New York Times, June 10, 2013.

The Humanities Project, including a set of reports, is Harvard’s response to the decline of the humanities, revolving around changes in the curriculum, internships, and improved advising providing a better professional orientation and preparation. A major curricular change is the creation of a series of interdisciplinary and team-taught courses that focus on major themes, such as water and war. This is very similar to the reforms that Mark Taylor suggested years ago. This fall, students can take new introductory courses such as The Art of Listening, The Art of Reading, and The Art of Looking, designed to ‘blow their minds … to really thrill them and excite them with cutting-edge thought in these fields’ in order to help them develop a broader predisciplinary perspective before they specialize on one discipline, which develops just the skills employers have been demanding for a long time:

If you interview anyone in the business community, they’ll say, ‘Give me someone who knows how to write and is deeply literate, and I can teach them the particulars of this industry. Without those skills I can’t teach them very much.’ (Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association)

Here is a ‘lament on the crisis of collaboration and cross-disciplinary communication in the humanities,’ by two humanists in The Chronicle that concludes:

Cultivating a voice—one that is both sophisticated and understandable—takes an enormous amount of practice. And it requires more than a little humility (which both of us are still working on). We have to actually care when others don’t grasp our point. Miscommunication is not a function of others’ ineptitude, but a reflection of our own. That may not always be the case, but it is unequivocally possible. And we have the choice to consider this possibility seriously. Doing so might mean that we begin to collaborate and discover a voice that is worth being listened to. We cannot do this by ourselves. It is not good to be alone.

And finally, here is Judith Butler’s commencement address at McGill on the critical importance of the humanities:

We lose ourselves in what we read, only to return to ourselves, transformed and part of a more expansive world.

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