The Humanities in Dubious Battle – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Humanities in Dubious Battle – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education :


For example: The data do show that humanities enrollments are much higher at elite private universities than at large public universities. Many will interpret that fact as if it proves the humanities are a luxury. Classics, history, literature, philosophy, and their cousins conjure up images of students from elite families preparing for leadership but worrying little about employment itself.

Once, elite universities were indeed home to disproportionate numbers of humanities majors. But in the 1960s, as opportunities expanded and students’ interests and cultures changed, men and women at public universities and elsewhere swarmed into those fields. Many took their training out into the world, while others stayed on for graduate study.

The numbers in the Harvard report suggest that the humanities are again attracting their clientele from the elite (though an elite that differs somewhat from its counterpart in the past). Humanities education provides the foundation for leadership, and wider access to such education implies wider access to positions of leadership.


What we need to hear—and what the Harvard report doesn’t offer us—are their voices. We also need to hear the voices of those whose lives are touched by these humanities majors after college, whether at the workplace or in the community.

What makes some students believe that being humanists will make them better doctors, better lawyers, better advertising experts? What do they find, in their courses, to keep them in departments of English and history and Romance languages? How are we helping them to articulate what they bring to the world beyond the university, so they can tell those stories more effectively? How can we make those stories available to new undergraduates as they decide what to study?

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