Symposium on the Future of the Humanities

The Symposium on the Future of the Humanities was held on Tuesday, March 29 at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, which co-sponsored the event with the Council of Independent Colleges. Presenters emphasized the value of a traditional humanities education that highlights human experience, illuminates ambiguity and complex thought, and provides contexts for many different kinds of knowledge. Many also spoke out against the insistence on measurable outcomes in higher education, as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“We have come to rely on the explanatory power of quantification in a way that far exceeds its usefulness,” said S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College. “The nation has succumbed to the myth that everything can be measured, and that, moreover, the measurements that count are those of the market economy.”

Ms. Nugent, like most of the speakers, argued that the study of subjects like history, literature, philosophy, and religion was essential to understanding oneself and one’s place in the world, the nature of existence, the very meaning of being human: “It may not be fashionable to say there is learning which cannot be measured in value-added increments, but it must be said.”

Some of the participants noted, however, that the event was directed at more traditional understandings of the value and work of the humanities. For example, Neil Fraistat, director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland at College Park, remarked, “There hasn’t been a lot today about how the humanities are changing and what we can be, not just what we have been…. the humanities are becoming more collaborative and more interdisciplinary.” (Read more in The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed)

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