[Humanist] 24.479 humanities: what for? where?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Nov 11 07:33:57 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 479.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    D.Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>                      (28)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.476 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines

  [2]   From:    Gregory Crane <gregory.crane at tufts.edu>                  (123)
        Subject: Responding to "the cuts,' Rethinking the Humanities and
                advancing civilization in a violent world

  [3]   From:    renata lemos <renata.lemoz at gmail.com>                     (28)
        Subject: Saving the humanities?

        Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2010 13:55:04 +0000
        From: D.Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.476 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines
        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>

        Date: Mon, 8 Nov 2010 11:15:15 -0400
        From: Ryan Deschamps <ryan.deschamps at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.474 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines
        In-Reply-To: <20101108074722.BC8C696A82 at woodward.joyent.us>

   Since I do not work with faculty (of any sort), I've been kind of quiet 
   on the issue, but now that I've read this I feel bold enough to add my 2 
   I am sure there is a lecture awaiting me about the 'harsh reality' of
   faculty interests, labor markets and the job hunt.   I would suggest 
   this is rather a 'harsh facade' - especially in an age where much of the 
   knowledge of our society has become more accessible than it ever has.
   Society's knowledge is not only more accessible, but the context of that
   knowledge is dynamic.   With the rise of databases and
   personal/collaborative taxonomies, we can in fact create our own
   'disciplines' in the blink of an eye

I don't want to give lectures, but what may have been lost in the above are the distinctions between disciplines and departments and between knowledge and academia. One may be able to create a discipline in the blink of an eye (though that depends on what is meant by a 'discipline'), but where I work, even creating a new module takes several years (much of which will be spent wrangling with committees). And even if knowledge is more accessible than ever, academic appointments for newly qualified PhDs are certainly harder to come by now than they used to be, even just a few years ago. So without wishing to appear too cynical, my experience of joining faculty has taught me that behind the harsh facade, there's a far harsher reality.

None of this, though, is to deny the incredible dynamism of knowledge in our connected world, which Ryan is right to enthuse about. Perhaps it is simply that the pursuit of knowledge has become increasingly alien to the business of higher education - even though many of the individuals employed in (and most of those trying to enter) the latter business are still committed to the former pursuit.

All best wishes


Dr Daniel Allington
Lecturer in English Language Studies and Applied Linguistics
Centre for Language and Communication
The Open University
01908 332 914

The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).

        Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2010 09:25:23 -0500
        From: Gregory Crane <gregory.crane at tufts.edu>
        Subject: Responding to "the cuts,' Rethinking the Humanities and advancing civilization in a violent world
        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>

The original has been published at http://www.stoa.org/archives/1299 but 
might not hurt to post this to Humanist as it addresses the discussion 
about the proposed UK cuts.

As we consider whether or not the Humanities serve a public good and 
warrant public support, we cannot emphasize enough that ideas are a 
matter of life and death. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Kabul 
and Kandahar were almost as remote from New York as the Moon is today. 
But in the first year of the twenty-first century, we saw that the most 
remote and geo-politically weak space on earth could strike the centers 
of global power. Pressing issues such as the anxiety over oil and Israel 
may be in the foreground, but these are largely accelerants to a deeper 
intellectual encounter, a war of ideas that have evolved over thousands 
of years, across thousands of miles, and within thousands of languages.

We need better ways to understand the cultures that drive economic and 
political systems upon which our biological lives depend. First, we need 
to understand the connections, often surprising, that bind superficially 
distinct cultures. Kandahar was in fact founded by Alexander the Great – 
one Alexandria among several in his empire. The great translation 
movement centered in Baghdad from c. 800 to 1000 CE made more Greek 
Science, Medicine, and Philosophy available in Arabic than has been 
translated into any modern language since. A second translation 
movement, with strong centers in Spain and Sicily, amade Arabic 
scholarship available in Latin – Aristotle re-emerged in the West 
because Muslim scholars had not only translated his work but had gone 
far beyond the Greek starting points and provided foundations on which 
Christian thinkers could build. Western Europe built upon a foundation 
forged in Greek and Arabic. As Dimitri Gutas, an expert on Greek and 
Arabic points out, the dense cultural network of which the Europe is a 
part extends – and has extended for thousands of years — at least until 

Ideas as well as material objects traveled back and forth from the 
Pacific to Atlantic, and as we contemplate complementary systems, such 
as the spread of Greek culture and the development of Ancient China, we 
can compare Plato and Confucius or Thucydides and Sun Tzu and open up 
questions of parallel development and shared human values.. When we 
examine American individualism, with its connections to pre-Christian, 
brutally competitive ideas in Greco-Roman culture, we can also ask how 
this might compare to cultural patterns that emphasize social cohesion 
and harmony in Asian societies with roots in Confucian thought. This is 
merely an example of a kind of analysis that raises questions of 
practical importance, especially as the United States and Europe become 
ever more closely linked to an ever more powerful China.

The act of posing these questions – about fundamental ideas that have 
shaped civilizations around the world – is arguably more important than 
the answers that we fashion. We need the intellectual tools to think 
about the problems and achievements of our own cultures and a respectful 
curiosity about other cultures that does not shy away from questions. 
When American journalist Robin Wright first met Iranian President 
Khatami in 1998, he quoted Plato and asked “what is justice?” to a 
bemused group of reporters, who had “all come to talk about issues a bit 
more pressing than ancient Greek philosophy.” But Khatami’s ideas struck 
a chord when he suggested that we need a Dialogue, rather than a Clash, 
of Civilizations. The year 2001 was designated by the United Nations as 
the year for the dialogue of civilizations. Tragically, as we all know, 
that year instead was marked by a new exchange of violence rather than 

What then can we do to grapple with the ideas that threaten our 
stability and security? From my standpoint, as a college professor who 
thinks about equipping the next generation with the kind of education 
that will sustain them in this new century, it is the Humanities that 
provide – or can provide – the space in which a real dialogue can take 
place. The disciplines of the humanities – philosophy, literature, 
history, classics, to mention several – are essential to the pursuit of 
genuine understanding across diverse cultures and intellectual 
frameworks. That said, those of us with the privilege to dedicate our 
lives to advancing our understanding of human record have a great deal 
of work to do In most areas of the humanities, academic culture, rooted 
in traditions of print publication, has produced a highly erudite and 
very narrow channel of communication, with publications that few could 
see, much less understand, and a hierarchical culture to which only 
those with advanced degrees and who wrote in a handful of European 
languages could contribute. Our students have been subjects in a kingdom 
of learning, measured by how far short they fell of the yardsticks that 
others had established for them. Today, those yardsticks seem out of 
date and frequently irrelevant to the dialogues taking place around the 
world with the help of new communication technologies.

These same technologies – that have accelerated the circulation of both 
hateful speech and new ideas across the globe — allow us to transform 
our intellectual lives as well. Each of us can explore a wider 
intellectual space than we could a generation ago. Professional 
researchers can explore broader questions in greater depth than was 
feasible before the digital age. Our students can become our 
collaborators – indeed, we need them for the shift to a digital space 
has made publicly available far more content than a handful of 
professional scholars can ever interpret. We are poised to create a new 
humanities education that integrates the most advanced analytical 
methods with our most ancient goals and that produces a generation 
better able to think about where they have come from and where they are 
going. And we have now the tools to expand our collaborations across 
languages and cultures, to develop intellectual and personal 
relationships with our colleagues from whom we had been cut off. Few 
Classicists, for example, realize that the University of Cairo supports 
one of the most active programs in Greek and Latin in the world because 
they publish largely in Arabic and because print culture, with its 
massive libraries, favored a handful of universities in the first world.

Vast digital collections and increasingly sophisticated technologies 
transform what is possible and challenges us to rethink how we can, in 
this emerging space, more fully realize those goals towards which our 
predecessors have labored, whether they were in India or the Near East, 
Europe or China. We now have an opportunity to build a republic of 
letters that spans languages and cultures, that advances the 
intellectual life of humanity and that contributes ever more, tangibly 
and intangibly to growing communities around the globe.

There are no quick solutions to the problems that we face. We can pull 
our sons and daughters from the mountains of Afghanistan or we can 
continue the work at hand, but the larger issues at play, in Afghanistan 
and elsewhere, often do not revolve around science and medicine but 
around history and ideas. The popular American cable channel of the same 
name aptly states “History – made every day,” but that history reaches 
back thousands of years and across thousands of languages. These are not 
small topics. We need both an educated populace and experts who are 
dedicated not only to their personal research, but also to serving the 
good of their societies and of humanity as a whole. If we in the 
Humanities can articulate, and then grow more fully into, those goals, 
then we not only serve ourselves and our students but contribute 
tangibly to a better world.

Gregory Crane

Professor and Chair, Department of Classics
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
Adjunct Professor, Computer Science
Editor-in-Chief, Perseus Project
Tufts University
November 9, 2010

        Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2010 15:39:45 +0100
        From: renata lemos <renata.lemoz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Saving the humanities?
        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>

Saving the humanities? <http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/saving-the-humanities/>

For a whole variety of reasons, subjects in the humanities are coming under
severe pressure in higher education around the world. In the United States,
students are increasingly choosing <http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/11/08/college_leaders_work_to_increase_interest_in_humanities/>
to study other subjects that they think are more visibly career-oriented, while
in England the proposed new funding model may remove state support for
humanities subjects altogether, so that students will have to pay fees
amounting to the full cost. Furthermore university research in science,
engineering and technology is getting the lion’s share of funding.

But what can be done? We cannot force students to choose courses they don’t
want to study, and research funding models are unlikely to change
dramatically. But there are things we can do. We can point to the
significant social (and even economic) need for
expertise http://www.hea.ie/files/files/file/HEA%20FAHSS%20Report.pdf
in humanities subjects. We can point to the convergence of new media content
with new technology, and the significance of the humanities in this process.
We can aim to re-invent some of the humanities to make them more attractive
to students who no longer instinctively understand or have a feeling for
traditional disciplines. When money becomes available, we can ensure that
higher education infrastructure is not consistently at its worst in the

A university system without the humanities, or one in which the humanities
are studied by wealthy students only, is not a proper university system. We
must be careful to ensure that this is not where we are going.


More information about the Humanist mailing list