The humanities have more to lose in the current budget wars than either the sciences or technical fields, says AAUP president Cary Nelson, in “Fighting for the Humanities,” just out in the new issue of Academe (the full issue will be released next week). This is because people take it for granted that scientific knowledge must advance, but view the humanities as more dispensible. Yet, Nelson says:
[T]the sciences are not the only group of disciplines that challenge belief systems. The demand that we see ourselves, as humans, differently from how we have before—the assertion that knowledge of ourselves and of our history is fundamentally false—is part of the continuous burden of the humanities, and it is almost always unwelcome.
Given the various assaults on higher education in general and the humanities in particular, Nelson asks:
[C]an we prevent the humanities from being tamed? Can we preserve the academic freedom to celebrate diverse and idiosyncratic cultural achievements and to draw provocative comparisons and contrasts across the whole of human knowledge? Can we maintain the capacity to challenge received beliefs, the confidence in righteous nationhood, and our blindness to injustice and prejudice?
Only, he suggests, if we embark on a “humanities offensive”: an educational project wherein we assert what we believe and explain it.
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