Extract from “Chancellor Martin’s Remarks at Humanities Grant Announcement” from Dec. 20, 2010 (Reprinted with Permission)

Some understand the importance of education in the humanities, but do not see the significance of research.
Let me put its importance in simple terms. Think of it this way — what if you, as an individual, had no memory? No record of your own history. What if your use of language were not pliable, expressive, creative? Think about a society without memory, without a sense of its history, without the ability to use language and other means of expression and communication.

Now imagine that you have only memory and can do nothing more than mimic the past, robotically, or that you have no capacity for reflection or analysis, and no tools for developing your individuality. What about a society or societies of people who cannot think for themselves, transform their experiences and cultural heritage, or imagine more than they have already seen.

Where do the tools for preserving, enhancing and reinventing language and culture come from? They come from scholarship and education in the humanities—in literature, art, music, anthropology, film, TV studies, studies of social media, studies of language and of language use, creative writing, history, interdisciplinary collaborations among humanists, social scientists and scientists.

Science and technology are essential to our well-being and economic prosperity, but science and technology alone cannot explain the world or help us live in it wisely. We are, by nature, cultural beings. We are learners. Our cultural environment shapes us. If we fail to understand how it shapes us, we forfeit our freedom and our responsibility to think about what we learn and who we are. The humanities help us understand how value is established, why some things are valued and others are not. They show us how dependent we can be on ingrained patterns of behavior, unexamined assumptions, ideological biases. That understanding allows us to find balance between preservation and innovation, tradition and change.

Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin is the 19th president of Amherst College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the College of William & Mary; a master’s degree in German literature from Middlebury College; and a doctorate in German literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to assuming the presidency at Amherst, President Martin served for eight years as provost at Cornell University, and for three years as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A distinguished scholar of German studies, she is the author of numerous articles and two books.

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