Whimpers from/for the Humanities

I am somewhat used to the chronicling of demise of the humanities to be found in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the The Times, but I must admit to be somewhat taken aback by similar treatments of the subject within the annals of scholarly societies themselves. At the most recent Digital Humanities meeting, Melissa Terras broached the issue. And then, and then, I was gleaning recent issues of Culture and Technology and came across a review by D. R. Koukal of Frank Donoghue’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. This link takes you to Project Muse, which houses the on-line PDFs of the journal. (ULL faculty and staff need to remember that we lose Muse and JSTOR — and, well, everything else — on August 31.) Donoghue’s argument, as I understand it from reading Koukal’s review, will come as no surprise to anyone keeping up with the last few decades of the humanities in the academy: the humanities lost the argument a while ago but are still in deep denial about their demise. That is, in the dominant rhetoric of immediate application and gain, the long-term, “life is complex” approach of the humanities is simply not seen as viable.

This is certainly not going to change in the immediate future as the world’s major economies, themselves in denial over the fact that they are actually in a depression and not a momentary recession, shrink. Those with jobs, anywhere but especially in the academy, are going to stand pat. Those without jobs are going to be pretty adamant about seeing immediate results. (Given the number of people unemployed and for how long, I would certainly not argue with their desire.)

This is a good time for humanists to roll up our collective and individual sleeves and not only produce the work we signed up to produce, but also to think about what more/else we need to be doing.

UPDATE: I missed this story in the Guardian about the cuts to universities in the United Kingdom. Story.

Leave a Reply