When Ted Turner informed his father that he would major in Classics, he got a letter (http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/07/this-is-my-son-he-speaks-greek.html ) which seemed to reach its purpose. His father’s opinions, such as: “I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek?” or “I was amazed that they had so much time for deliberating and thinking, and was interested in the kind of civilization that would permit such useless deliberation” do not differ much from the opinions of most educated or uneducated people. Such questions are incumbent upon the need and value of the humanist disciplines.
The debate on the status of the Humanities in the academia has had a long history. However, nowadays, there seems to be a crusade against them in order to be marginalized, if not removed from the educational systems around the world. Chairs of history, paleography, classics, archaeology and many more are facing their end due to cutbacks to the Schools of Humanities. In this context, the scholars find themselves in the position of having to justify the purposes of their research in terms of immediate economic and social relevance: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/oct/13/research-funding-economic-impact-humanities. While most of them agree that it is impossible to measure the impact of their research, it is only natural to wonder who has the competence to do it and by which criteria.
Despite the scholars’ discontent for such decisions, the issue is real and rather urgent. In a lecture delivered on 1st November 2010 at the University of New Hampshire, Anthony Grafton stated that “Humanities are not innovative in their nature; they are preserving what has been done so far”. In my opinion, such an affirmation along with failing to answer convincingly the question “Why do we do what we do?” is equal to the predictable disappearance of a discipline. Apparently, the researchers find it necessary to express their motivations only to their peers, who presumably understand the premises of someone else’s research by sharing the same academic background or curiosity. Yet, those who challenge the status of the Humanities come from the business, public services and policy making areas.They will look for promoting or buying the material result of research rather than ideas. Thus, how can we compete with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields? What is it that we want to know? What kind of world-view do we want to propose through our research or in other words, what kind of knowledge do we produce? Why is our motivation relevant for the society? What is it at stake?
This post is part of the weekly series: HUMANITIES TODAY- a series of provocative and interesting posts from people within the academia or the educational sector