The State of the Humanities

Susan O’Doherty:

I’ve been thinking about Peter Conn’s article in the Chronicle about the depressing current and predicted future of academic employment in the humanities. The entire article is worth reading, but I was struck especially by his discussion of the need to communicate the value of the humanities to both the academy and the population at large, and to integrate these disciplines better into the world’s business:
Collectively, those of us who profess the humanities must make a sustained effort to explain to our various constituencies–students, parents, legislators, journalists, even our own university trustees (I speak from personal experience of that latter group)–that these disciplines, and the traditions they represent, are not merely ornamental and dispensable. They lie near the heart of mankind’s restless efforts to make sense of the world. Debates over war and peace, justice and equity: From the uses of scientific knowledge to the formulation of social policy, the humanities provide a necessary dimension of insight and meaning.
Generally, law school is considered the initial step on the path to a life of public service. Of course it’s important to understand the laws of the country you’re serving, but I’ve been having fun imagining what the government would look like with more humanities scholars running things. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and I hope you’ll add your thoughts: