Martha Nussbaum on the Humanities


Last night in Washington D.C., University of Chicago philosopher delivered the 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture.  Several Messiah College students and faculty were in attendance.

I did some delayed tweeting of the talk last night @johnfea1.  I used the #jefflec17 hashtag.

If you don’t have time to watch the lecture or check the tweets, you may want to read Nussbaum’s interview with NEH chair Williams Adams in Humanities magazine.  Here is a taste:

WILLIAM D. ADAMS: Your book Not for Profit made the case for the importance of the humanities in American democratic life. Have things changed substantially since it was published in 2010?

MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: Data on humanities majors is still a source of concern, but there’s been a big increase in total enrollments in humanities courses in community colleges. And in adult education, too, there’s been a huge upsurge. The preface to the new edition of my book gives data and sources on all this.

We are lucky in the United States to have our liberal arts system. In most countries, if you go to university, you have to decide for all English literature or no literature, all philosophy or no philosophy. But we have a system that is one part general education and one part specialization. If your parents say you’ve got to major in computer science, you can do that. But you can also take general education courses in the humanities, and usually you have to.

ADAMS: Yet I’ve sensed some weakening of our resolve to support the liberal arts. What should we be doing to reinforce your way of thinking about higher education?

NUSSBAUM: There are three points you can make. The one I think should be front and center is that the humanities prepare students to be good citizens and help them understand a complicated, interlocking world. The humanities teach us critical thinking, how to analyze arguments, and how to imagine life from the point of view of someone unlike yourself.

Secondly, we need to emphasize their economic value. Business leaders love the humanities because they know that to innovate you need more than rote knowledge. You need a trained imagination.

Singapore and China, which don’t want to encourage democratic citizenship, are expanding their humanities curricula. These reforms are all about developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

But the humanities also teach us the value, even for business, of criticism and dissent. When there’s a culture of going along to get along, where whistleblowers are discouraged, bad things happen and businesses implode.

The third point is about the search for meaning. Life is about more than earning a living, and if you’re not in the habit of thinking about it, you can end up middle-aged or even older and shocked to realize that your life seems empty.

Read the entire interview here.

And here is a shot of the Messiah College contingency in Washington, courtesy of Pete Powers’s Facebook page:


February is a Big Month for the Messiah College History Department


As many of you know, I serve as the chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  In that role, I am happy to announce that we have a lot going on in the department this month (and into the first week of March).

The History Department is playing a major role in the 2017 Messiah College Humanities Symposium.  (All of the sessions of the Symposium are open to the public).  The theme of this year’s Symposium is “Slavery and Justice from Antiquity to the Present.”

On February 21st at 7:00pm in Boyer Hall 131 the entire History Department will sit on a panel titled “Of Human Bondage: Forms of Enslavement in Global History.”  Each member of the department will take five minutes to talk about how the subject of slavery is treated in their specific sub-field of history and there will be plenty of time for audience discussion.

On February 23 at 3:45pm in Boyer Hall 131 two of our History Department graduates who are now in graduate school will present some of their research.  Christina Thomas (’14) will give a talk titled “What Shall I Teach My Children Who Are Black?: The Biography of Geraldine Louise Wilson, 1931-1988.”  Hierald Osorto (’06) will present a talk titled “Recovering Memory: The Archive as a Site of Resistance.”

On February 24th at 12:30-1:40 one of our current history majors, Kaitlin Coleman, will be participating in a discussion of an exhibit “Stories of Resistance from Central Pennsylvania.”  The exhibit will be on display all week in Boyer Hall’s Howe Atrium.

I also hope to attend other historically-related sessions featuring scholars and students who are not connected to the History Department.  Here are a few:

Feb. 20: Dr. David Smith, Calvin College: “Charity, Humility, Justice: Learning to Read and Inviting Virtue.” (Boyer Hall 131, 4:45)

Feb. 20: Dr. Emerson Powery, Messiah College: “The Bible and the ‘Slave Narrative’.” (Hostetter Chapel, 7:00pm)

Feb. 21: Dr. Peter Powers, Messiah College: “Whose freedom? Whose Humanity?: Slavery, the Humanities, and the Liberating Arts.” (Boyer Hall 131, 3:45)

Feb. 23: Maria Thiaw, Central Penn College and Messiah College and Central Penn College Students: “Piecing Our History: A Quilted and Poetic History of African Americans in Dauphin Country.”

The Humanities Symposium ends on Friday, February 24, but the History Department-sponsored events keep rolling on!

On Monday, February 27 C-SPAN will be on campus to film a lecture in my Pennsylvania History course for its American History TV program “Lectures in History.”  (Sorry, this one is not open to the public)

Later in the day on the 27th the History Department will host Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward Larson of Pepperdine University for a lecture titled “The Election of 1800 & the Birth of Partisan Presidential Politics.”  Admission is free and open to the public.  It will take place in Boyer Hall 336 at 4:00pm

Finally, on Saturday, March 4th, Messiah College will host the annual South-Central Pennsylvania regional National History Day competition.  Over 600 middle-school and high-school students will compete for spots in the Pennsylvania state National History Day competition with the hopes of making it all the way to the national finals.  We are still looking for judges for the event.  If you are interested in serving this way please shoot me an e-mail at jfea[at]messiah[dot]eduAn

And did I mention that on Monday, February 20 we are hosting a History Department Open House session for prospective students and their family?  I hope to see some of you in Frey Hall 156 from 11:30-12:20.

We are looking forward to a busy few weeks!  I hope to see many of you along the way!

Dispatches from the History Major: "Race in America: The Messiah College 2105 Humanities Symposium"

James Mueller

I hope you are enjoying “Dispatches from the History Major.”  Here is the next installment from Messiah College sophomore history major James Mueller.  –JF

Last Friday marked the close of Messiah College’s 2015Humanities Symposium on the theme “Race in America.” Because of my involvement with the Center for the Public Humanities and the Digital Harrisburg Project, I had the opportunity to be pretty involved. Here are some of my highlights:

  • Attending the Genetic Ancestry ProjectDr. Joseph Huffman of the Messiah College History Department and two other Messiah College professors spent the summer of 2014 exploring the genetic make-up of about a dozen different Messiah student and faculty members. They presented their results via a student produced documentary and had the student and faculty members talk about how they felt about their “race” after discovering their genetic origins. This session completely changed my perception of racial categorization!   
  • Escorting high school students to dinner and to Michele Norris’ keynote lecture – The kids I ate with were fun, energetic, and excited to talk about race and what it meant to them. After our meal we went over to Parmer Hall and listened to Michele Norris give an excellent talk about her experience with race and why she started her Race Card Project.    
  • Presenting a talk at a session on the Digital Harrisburg Project – Rachel Carey (a junior history major at Messiah College and the heart of the Digital Harrisburg project) and I gave a presentation with Dr. David Pettegrew and Dr. Jim LaGrand (two Messiah History professors) in front of a packed classroom at Messiah’s Boyer Hall. We talked about the inception of the project, showed off some of its capabilities, and addressed a number of historical questions concerning race in early 20thcentury Harrisburg. It was a great opportunity to work on my public speaking skills and to use my historical skills outside of the classroom. Oh, and I also
    Michelle Norris

    that Dr Powers (the Dean of the Humanities at Messiah) and Dr. Fea can blow Twitter up like nobody’s business!        

  • Harrisburg Giants Extended Trailer Preview – I unfortunately did not have the chance to attend this session because of work, but I’m sure Messiah students Jonathan Berry Wolf, Kyle Kull, and Scott Orris did a great job! They gave their audience a sneak peak of a documentary they have been working on about the Harrisburg Giants (a mixed-race baseball team which played in the American Negro League during the 1930s), and even had four members of the Giants come and talk about their experience on the team.
The Symposium was fascinating, challenging, and utterly exhausting; juggling two jobs and my course work didn’t help things either. I’m looking forward to next year’s, but for now I’m thankful for a reprieve after such a crazy week. Is it sad that writing a 4-6 page source analysis on Suetonius’ De Vita Caesarum is going to be relaxing? 

THATCamp Harrisburg: Oct 25-26, 2013

I am happy to announce that Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology are teaming up to host THATCamp Harrisburg on October 25 and 26.  Head over to the event website to learn more about THATCamps, unconferences, and the digital humanities.  You can also find a call for participation, information about travel and lodging, and registration information.

See you in Harrisburg on October 25-26!