Alexandra Petri, a columnist at the Washington Post, wrote an interesting article at the end of June in which she discusses the need for humanities studies as we move into the future as a society. By far the best part of her argument is this:
My biggest problem with all the people speaking up to defend the Humanities is that they seem to be coming at it from the wrong end of the telescope. “The future will still need the human skills that the liberal arts promote, and perhaps will need them more than ever: skills in communication, interpretation, linking and synthesizing domains of knowledge, and imbuing facts with meaning and value.” Is that really all it is? I didn’t realize I was gaining skills in imbuing facts with meaning and value. I thought I was lucky to get to reach back 300 years or 3,000 years and see how the people alive at that time struggled with the most fundamental and fascinating questions of existence [...]. In a nutshell — What is human?
If you don’t realize that these disciplines are inherently exciting because they have a monopoly on these questions, [...] I quake for the Humanities.
I'm just now getting around to piping up with my two cents because, well, I was too busy doing the things that humanities-centric people do: reading, writing, no 'rithmatic. In other words, I was:
- conducting research for a paper I'm writing about Madonna's Ray of Light
- rewatching the Harry Potter movies
- promoting a book I recently edited
- pondering the cosmos
Okay, that last one is an exaggeration. But think about what I WAS doing:
- reaching out to people with my words
- helping to expand the understanding we have of popular culture
- reexperiencing something that changed the world
- contributing to the discussion of a very important topic
- bringing joy to readers by helping someone share his work
This probably makes me sound a little snobby, like I have a very high opinion of myself and my activities. But please don't misunderstand. This is how I feel about the humanities on a general level. I have the same amount of respect for the sciences, because they expand our knowledge of the physical universe, and that's important, too.
What I do not respect, however, is the way the humanities are consistently shunted aside in favor of other things. The humanities are the best way we have to understand ourselves as humans. That's why they're called humanities.