“Humanities in the Twenty-first Century:
Why The Humanities Matter Wiki
On October 14th, 2010, I created a Wikispace page where individuals could comment on "Why The Humanities Matter."
Below are several responses. Please feel free to access the public Wiki page to see more and add your remarks.
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PROFESSOR IN THEATRE
I hear many lamenting the loss of languages or decrying the general harm to humanities SUNY Albany's cuts will do. It is shameful. However,we
must not forget the contributions of theatre, not just to our culture, but to a liberal arts education. There is a public misconception that an education in theatre is only for actors or academics. In today's age of interdisciplinary learning, theatre departments should be recognized as icons of a liberal arts program. In few other academic disciplines do the subjects of history, literature, psychology, science, math, engineering, visual art and sculpture permeate every hour of the day.
Actors and directors must know the history surrounding a play. They must know literature and its devices to understand the story the play
tells. They must know psychology to understand what motivates their character's actions. Technicians must know science to understand the
physics of lighting or the chemistry of cooking fake glass. They must know math to layout and construct an archway or even for something as
simple as reading the fractions on a tape measure. They must know engineering to choose appropriate materials when building sets or flying
performers. Designers must know about and be skilled in the myriad conventions of visual artists and sculptors in order to convey the appropriate moods and feelings in their sets, lights and costumes.
More than these academic subjects, the skilled theatre professional must also possess finely tuned creative problem solving and collaborative
skills. Learning not just to succeed but excel within tightly defined parameters is the daily fodder of directors, actors and technicians.
Theatre programs are one of the most effective methods for nurturing these rare and invaluable assets. This list of needed knowledge and
skills is a miniscule example of the multitudinous subjects taught and used every day in the field of Theatre. Success in this field requires
a massive breadth and wealth of knowledge. Eliminating a theatre department deals a debilitating and depressing blow to any liberal arts
Thanks for listening to my two cents!
Steven M. Michalek
Technical Director, Lighting Designer, Production Manager
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Theatre and Dance
Union College (and SUNY Albany alum)
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF AN ARCHAEOLOGIST
16 October 2010
Francis Bacon said "Histories make men wise."
Yet history is replete with civilizations that failed to learn the most important lessons of adapting to changing times, losing grip on those positive core values distinguishing them in the first place, and making their appearance and contributions brief. I am not surprised how many of my Stanford undergraduate as well as postgraduate adult courses are filled with pre-engineering or pre-law students as well as professional engineers, bankers and lawyers trying to feed their souls starved by a relentlessly arid commercial society driven by bottom line, profit margin and productivity. Commerce alone does not feed society without compassion to reach out to those without food. That broader reach makes us human. While machines can calculate and do wonderful tasks, they are incapable of such higher thought. Archaeologists and historians try to understand the past, and perhaps this enables them to not only better grasp the present but perhaps even to better glimpse the future.
Dr. Patrick Hunt, Stanford University
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A HISPANIST:
The Humanities matter because humanists do the heavy lifting of society. The description of the universe is child's play alongside the description of the human soul. Yet that is precisely what culture attempts to do through its modeling of lived human experience, and it is humanists who describe to us that attempt and assess its scope, failures, and successes.
Professor David William Foster, Arizona State University
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A STUDENT IN MEDIEVAL LITERATURE:
October 15th, 2010
How does one experience math? What does the knowledge of science feel like? Why do we talk about the sun setting, when we know it's the earth which is rotating? The humanities matter because they study the reaction of the human mind to the world. This is not simply psychology. Psychology is a science which explains the infrastructure affecting consciousness. The humanities study the questions science cannot: What's it like to know something, or believe something? Science studies that which can be measured. That's great. We need it, and it's done awesome things for us. But how do we know that only things which can be measured exist? How can science prove that? Once a scientist argues that only the measurable exists, he has done philosophy. Once he argues that a sunset is beautiful - not, mind you, how the human mind processes it as beautiful, but that it is beautiful - he has done poetry. The fact is, the empirical world can not be fully studied without the humanities, because not all of our empirical experiences translate readily into math or science. Science has been advanced, often, by the works of the imagination. I recall watching a scientific study of the effect of nature on the human mind, inspired by Romanticism to ask the question, Does nature make us happier and healthier? They found that, in fact, it does. This imaginative question would not arise to be asked without the dynamic imagination invested in the poetic tradition, to inspire scientific questions in the empirical world. If we take away imagination and the humanities, we also take away the same creative force behind every scientific study. All pursuits of knowledge stand or fall, in my opinion, together.
PhD Student in Medieval Literature
Saint Louis University
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PROFESSOR OF FRENCH
15 October 2010
Studies in the humanities spark and develop an individual's capacity for enlightened empathy. No trait is more important for counterbalancing the all-too-human tendency toward bigotry, chauvinism, and egocentricity. To debase the status of the humanities in higher education is to undermine its soul.
Edward Baron Turk
John E. Burchard Professor of the Humanities
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A LIBRARIAN
5 October 2010
How can a person be considered educated without an exposure to art, literature, cinema, language, theater, music, and all the other facets that we include in the broad category of "humanities?" Historically it has only been members of nobility, the privileged classes, and clerics who were able to receive tutoring in the classics. Is that what we return to now, in the 21st century, when in a global environment it is even more important for all citizens of the world to have a basic understanding about how people creatively express themselves? Without humanities there is no civilization, no intellectual life in the world. Without humanities education there is no true literacy, no humanity! Science is empirical, humanities are creative. Science measures and leads to technical wonders. Humanities enable human beings to appreciate the way those technical wonders enhance life through sound, light, and the written word. Let us not return to an intellectually-diminished world. Let us celebrate the creative spirit of man which, through the study and appreciation of spiritually-inspired creations, allows us to fully participate in the totality of the human condition.
"The educated differ from the uneducated, as the living from the dead." (Aristotle on Education, 384 - 322 B.C.)
University of California, Los Angeles
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF OUR LEANING TOWER OF PISA
Much is being said on this Wiki regarding the role of the Humanities to inject soul and spirit, humanity and literacy into human endeavors. I absolutely agree. But as long as we continue to describe our disciplines abstractly, we will remain, as the discussion on Libraries and the Humanities suggests, unsearchable and, quite simply, invisible to the rest of the world.
We need to assure that others understand why and how the Humanities provide cutting-edge value to other disciplines inside and outside of academia. As Kathryn Tomaseks entry highlights, we need to demonstrate in what ways the Humanities are integral to our evolving (digital) culture. Why should engineers, chemists, political scientists, or biologist care? Why should they pay any attention to us at all?
While there is much value in discipline-specific studies, and I do not wish to undermine its importance, I believe the humanities can gain more ground, more forcefully and concretely through interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinarity, as well as service learning programs and any and all programs that reach beyond the confines of our discipline-specific and closed borders, allows us, yes, in fact it forces us, to reach out to other communities and clearly communicate who and what we are about.
The truth is, we are not innocent in this long-standing and developing crisis.
Cross-disciplinary interactions remove us from the abstract, often jargon-filled silos we have constructed around ourselves. Interdisciplinary projects, among others, put us in contact with a more material world. Instead of indulging in theoretical, academic jargon that only we can understand, we now have to explain and apply our intellectual approaches and endeavors to the work of others. There is a place for theoretical discipline-specific musings; but we may also need to think and recognize how and why what we do has concrete effects in the world at large.