The Humanities Are All Right

[Natalie Cicere][] has a terrific response to some of the current critiques of the humanities, especially those that bemoan the loss of a “center”:

> The humanities are often represented as an irrelevant, moribund, and merely preservationist field, passing on old knowledge of old things without producing anything new. That’s why it keeps having to be “defended” by people saying, “no! old shit matters too!” (It does — witness one chapter from Washington Irving’s 1819-20 _Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent._ getting rebooted yet again, this time as a goofy paranormal procedural—but this already accepts a basic misrepresentation of humanities scholarship.)
> Yet it’s precisely the production of new knowledge in the humanities that powerfully influences the everyday lives of Americans, and which leads to pearl-clutching by those who insist on the humanities’ irrelevance. David Brooks, for example, is very sad that the humanities have failed to be stagnant. He claims that humanities enrollments have substantially declined (factually untrue) since the rise of critical theory and its concurrent attention to race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in the 1980s. But the humanities didn’t just turn to these categories for kicks (still less because it was “fashionable,” as culture-wars critics like Alan Sokal have claimed); turning to them was the result of research. Through research, scholars found out that these categories were complicated, powerful, and important for understanding culture. Brooks seems to suppose that doing research that has a broad impact makes your field irrelevant.

Note to others about the television thing: I once sat in a meeting here at my very own university with the Vice President of Research told the English department’s graduate faculty that if they wanted more money, then they needed to write for television. (I couldn’t have made that up if I tried.)

[Natalie Cicere]:

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