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What's Happened to the Humanities?

What's Happened to the Humanities?

Edited by Alvin Kernan
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    What's Happened to the Humanities?
    Book Description:

    This volume of specially commissioned original essays presents the thoughts of some of the most distinguished commentators within the American academy on the fundamental changes that have taken place in the humanities in the latter part of the twentieth century. In the transformation of American higher education from the university to the "demoversity," the humanities have become a less and less important part of education, a matter established by a statistical appendix and elaborated on in several of the essays. The individual essays offer close observations into how the humanities have been affected by declining academic status, by demographic shifts, by reductions in financial support, and by changing communication technology. They also explore the effect of these forces on books, libraries, and the phenomenology of reading in the age of images. When basic conditions change, theory follows, and several essays trace the appearance and effect of new relativistic epistemologies in the humanities. Social institutions change as well in such circumstances, and the volume concludes with studies of the new social arrangements that have developed in the humanities in recent years: the attack on professionalism and the effort to transform the humanities into the social conscience of academia and even of the nation as a whole.

    Cause and effect? Who can say? What the essays make clear, however, is that as the humanities have become less significant in American higher education, they have also been the scene of unusually energetic pedagogical, social, and intellectual changes.

    The contributors to the volume are David Bromwich, John D'Arms, Denis Donoghue, Carla Hesse, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lynn Hunt, Frank Kermode, Louis Menand, Francis Oakley, Christopher Ricks, and Margery Sabin. Included is a substantial introduction by Alvin Kernan and an appendix of tables and figures showing baccalaureate and doctoral degrees over the years in various types of schools.

    Originally published in 1997.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6452-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-2)

    Humanistic scholarship—especially the close reading and interpretation of texts—has always been an important part of our cultural inheritance, particularly since the eighteenth-century flowering of biblical philology and hermeneutics. The twentieth century has witnessed not only a redefinition of the humanities and a new disciplinary organization of teaching and research in this and other areas, but also the successive development of a number of new approaches to the interpretation of texts. In the most recent decades, some would say that certain components of the humanities have changed more than any other area of study at the universities. One clear...

  4. Introduction: Change in the Humanities and Higher Education
    (pp. 3-14)

    Institutionally, in the standard academic table of organization, the university catalogue—the knowledge tree of contemporary western culture—the humanities are the subjects regularly listed under that heading: literature, philosophy, art history, music, religion, languages, and sometimes history. This branch of knowledge is separated from the branch of the social sciences and from the branch of the biological and physical sciences. These three branches together form the arts and sciences, or the liberal arts, as they are sometimes known, which are as a group separated in turn from the professional disciplines—such as medicine, education, business, and law—which, at...


      (pp. 17-31)

      Teaching and research in the humanities are shaped by various factors, not all of which are immediately evident either to the public or to humanities scholars themselves. This essay examines the role of some of those silently acting but nonetheless effective agents in remaking the world of higher education. The focus will be on the intersection of two major structural trends: the ever-progressing democratization of higher education and the less certain but nonetheless potentially momentous decline in the status of the humanities. How are these trends connected to each other? More generally, what are the likely consequences of demographic changes...

    • Two Funding Trends in the Academic Humanities, 1970–1995: REFLECTIONS ON THE STABILITY OF THE SYSTEM
      (pp. 32-60)
      JOHN H. D’ARMS

      Who have been the patrons—the Maecenates and the Medici, the Pierpont Morgans and the Paul Mellons—of the humanities in this country’s leading universities and colleges during the past twenty-five years? What trends in patterns of financial support can be detected over time, and what vectors and forces can be identified as the principal drivers of change? A list of patrons with any pretension to completeness would include at least two agencies of the federal government; private philanthropic foundations large and small; a wide range of independent fellowship providers, including both residential centers and national research libraries; corporate sponsors;...


    • Three Ignorant Armies and Nighttime Clashes: CHANGES IN THE HUMANITIES CLASSROOM, 1970–1995
      (pp. 63-83)

      If the title of this essay suggests the presence of a measure of confusion in the debates of the past decade and more about the state of the humanities, it is intended to do so. It is intended also to signal the fact that a residual undertow of agnosticism still tugs away uneasily even at this rather modest attempt merely to identify the principal changes over the past twenty-five years inwhatis actually being taught in the undergraduate humanities classroom and inhowit is being taught. For that is my topic. And yet, to the degree to which...

    • Four Evolution and Revolution: CHANGE IN THE LITERARY HUMANITIES, 1968–1995
      (pp. 84-104)

      Many reasonable consultants prescribe more debate as the best treatment for current symptoms of pathology in the humanities.¹ Debate therapy, however, in this case somewhat resembles the old fever cure. Rhetorical techniques such as caricature, imprecation, lament, and dire prophecy all win debate points in the humanities, but only while further raising our collective fever. The degree to which grandiose claims and spectacular accusations have in recent decades infected discussion of change in the humanities is itself a key symptom of a historical disorder that the method of debate can hardly hope to cure.

      Any account of this history must,...


    • Five Humanities and the Library in the Digital Age
      (pp. 107-121)

      The earliest evidence of library formation is a collection of Babylonian clay tablets from the twenty-first century B.C. But libraries have probably existed from the very moment humans began to make marks durable enough to be conserved. The fixing of significations in some durable material form made it possible for them to transcend the immediacy of experience, for them to be suspended above the flow of time in order to be revisited later, grouped and compared, reflected upon at greater length, or shared with people not immediately present. Inscription itself, of course, is not a mode of signification, but a...

    • Six The Practice of Reading
      (pp. 122-140)

      It may be well to speak to a text. I have chosenMacbethfor reasons that hardly need to be explained. I will quote two or three passages of literary criticism, directed upon a few speeches from the play, to indicate what close, patient reading of the play has been deemed to entail. But I must approach these passages by a detour, to indicate why I am citing them in an essay on current practices of reading. I confine myself toMacbethand its attendant commentaries, but I assume that similar problems of reading are encountered in the humanities generally....


    • Seven “Beyond Method”
      (pp. 143-161)

      For the journalist, the medium is the message. For the scholar, the method is the message. On this one proposition, traditional and nontraditional scholars may agree. Methodology does not dictate the conclusions that any particular study may come to, but it does dictate the parameters of the study: the way the research is conducted, how the findings are presented, even what are suitable subjects for study. A revolution in methodology is, therefore, of more than “academic” interest, as the invidious phrase has it—more than a technicality or formality. And it is all the more momentous if it affects a...

    • Eight Changing Epochs
      (pp. 162-178)

      Since the topic of changing cultural epochs, ends and beginnings, is in the fin de siècle air, it might be worth asking whether the one we may conceivably be experiencing is of a kind that will permit the survival of literary studies, a term I use in a sense that the sequel should make clear, or indeed of literature, a term I use in a sense that will still seem innocent to some, though condemned by many others as tainted by nostalgia for the aesthetic, redolent of a hateful elitism, an instrument of ideological oppression.

      In Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novelLes...

    • Nine The Pursuit of Metaphor
      (pp. 179-198)

      Being in a quandary, I shall be turning to study the quandary that the study of metaphor continues to be in.

      My own quandary is immeasurably less important (except to me) but not less real. When this collection of essays was being bruited, I found myself saying at an explorers’ meeting that instead of everybody’s talking, yet once more, about “the state of the humanities” and the changes and chances of late, those of us who resist the claims of certain recent developments—as not truly or not sufficiently developments at all—would do better to get on with such...


    • Ten The Demise of Disciplinary Authority
      (pp. 201-219)

      An academic field of inquiry is a paradigm inhabiting a structure. Thirty years ago, the paradigm for academic literary studies became detached from the institutional structure it inhabited. This phenomenon was masked by the circumstance that the American university was enjoying a period of rapid expansion, which made the discrepancy between scholarly assumptions and institutional determinants easily finessed. Challenges to the received structure of academic inquiry did not have to be faced; they could simply be tacked onto the existing system. Today the effects of that detachment have become apparent. They are reflected in almost every aspect of the profession,...

    • Eleven Scholarship as Social Action
      (pp. 220-244)

      There have long been university scholars in America dedicated to particular causes or general programs of reform, and often their interests as scholars have seemed inseparable from their commitments outside scholarship. John Dewey in philosophy is the most celebrated example. Others, like Helen and Robert Lynd in sociology and F. O. Matthiessen in literature, suggest the range of work that came under this description earlier in the century: it is hard to think of books likeMiddletownorThe Public and Its ProblemsorAmerican Renaissanceas separable from the hopes these scholars cherished for their societv and the ambition...

    (pp. 245-258)
  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 259-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-267)