Jon Baskin and Anastasia Berg are humanists and co-editors of The Point. Today at The New York Times they join the chorus of thinkers and intellectuals concerned about the fate of the humanities in American life. They are optimistic:
…the current crisis [in the humanities] might present an opportunity as well as a threat. No one should minimize the impact of the closing and contracting of humanities departments and liberal arts colleges on students, professors and staffs. And, to be sure, there remains scholarly work that requires the resources and support that today only a university can provide. But the case for humanistic education should never rest solely on the survival of these institutions. This means the “crisis” cannot be adequately described either by the number of openings on the academic job market, or the number of Great Books on university syllabuses. The health of the humanities should be measured instead by whether our society provides ample opportunities for its citizens to ask the fundamental questions about the good life and the just society.
By that yardstick, it seems, the humanities are healthier than the doomsayers might lead us to believe.
In recent months, in the midst of a pandemic, a protest movement and a presidential election season, millions of Americans have gravitated to online reading groups and book clubs, attended Zoom panels on the burdens of history and the meaning of open discourse, watched philosophy lectures on YouTube and flocked to longform, humanistic magazines (as editors of one of them, The Point, we can attest that our readership has nearly doubled since March). Those who truly care about the future of the humanities, as opposed to the viability of certain career paths, might begin by seeing such public-facing pursuits as central, rather than ancillary, to their mission.
Read the entire piece here.