Restoring the Humanities to Their Rightful Place

If you have been reading this blog or any publication related to higher education, you know that the humanities have been taking hits of late.  The economic downturn in recent years has led to declining enrollments in humanities-based programs and majors.

Yet there are many scholars and leaders in education out there who are trying to revive the humanities by calling attention to their essential nature in cultivating liberally educated people.  One of those attempts was Tuesday’s Symposium on the Future of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.  Speakers included Robert Darnton, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Dana Gioia.

Due to my travel schedule I was unable to see any of the live web cast of the event, but the Dean of Humanities at Messiah College reserved a room on campus where it was being shown.  Humanities faculty were invited to drop by during the day to catch different sessions.  (Of course they could have watched it in their office on their computers, but the idea was to get them together so meaningful conversation could occur).  Great idea!

I believe that you can still catch the sessions online or you can read the coverage at Inside Higher Ed.  Here is a taste of that coverage:

No new initiatives or campaigns were unveiled Tuesday, and no elevator speeches polished for delivery to policy makers. Little hand-wringing — about the culture wars that have roiled these disciplines in recent decades or about the budget cuts that loom today — took place.

Instead, speakers floated a series of arguments in favor of the importance of the humanities, citing their civic, economic, pedagogic, political, moral, personally transformative and inherent (that is, art-for-art’s-sake) power. And several noted somewhat ruefully that it would be inconceivable for scholars of other disciplines to convene to discuss, say, the future of physics (as in, will there even be a future for this discipline?).