Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two links in defense of the humanities

Michael Berube, over at Crooked Timber, dismantles the idea that the humanities have been declining as a major:

And Gregory A. Petsko, at Genome Biology, responds to SUNY Albany's purge of its language departments by providing an eloquent defense of the humanities from a scientist's perspective. A sample:
But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future. I'll give you two examples of that. The first is the science of virology, which in the 1970s was dying out because people felt that infectious diseases were no longer a serious health problem in the developed world and other subjects, such as molecular biology, were much sexier. Then, in the early 1990s, a little problem called AIDS became the world's number 1 health concern. The virus that causes AIDS was first isolated and characterized at the National Institutes of Health in the USA and the Institute Pasteur in France, because these were among the few institutions that still had thriving virology programs. My second example you will probably be more familiar with. Middle Eastern Studies, including the study of foreign languages such as Arabic and Persian, was hardly a hot subject on most campuses in the 1990s. Then came September 11, 2001. Suddenly we realized that we needed a lot more people who understood something about that part of the world, especially its Muslim culture. Those universities that had preserved their Middle Eastern Studies departments, even in the face of declining enrollment, suddenly became very important places. Those that hadn't - well, I'm sure you get the picture.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

How lovely to have a scientist come to our defense. I get so tired of being defensive.

undine said...

Thanks, Dame Eleanor. It's clear that whatever those of us in the humanities are saying isn't getting through, so it's nice to have a defender from outside.