U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Future of the Humanities

[Updated 3/7/12]

After reading innumerable jeremiads about the bleak state of the humanities, the annexation of the academy to the marketplace, the demise of tenure, the diminution of academic freedom, and the commodification of academic labor — and after writing a few dystopic blog posts of my own — I sometimes find it hard going to be hopeful about the future of the humane arts and letters. 

I know I’m not alone.  Many of my fellow grad students are likewise worried.  This worry isn’t simply a bit of careerist self-preservation.  Instead, many of us are concerned that in the continued diminution and devaluation of the humanities within and beyond the academy, our society risks losing something precious and irreplaceable. 

That’s a heavy load of existential angst to carry.  Writing a dissertation is hard enough without feeling like your desk is bolted to the deck of the Titanic.  We PhD students in the humanities could use some perspective, some encouragement, and maybe even a little hope.  

So we have called in an expert.

On Saturday, March 24, Ben Alpers, my fellow USIH blogger and the S-USIH Publications Committee Chair, will be giving the keynote address at the 4th annual RAW Graduate Symposium at the University of Texas at Dallas.  Ben will be speaking on “The Future of the Humanities.” 

The RAW symposium, sponsored by the Graduate Student Association of the School of Arts and Humanities, offers grad students a chance to present their work to their colleagues and receive critical feedback and comments from panel moderators and audience members. 

We have put together a great slate of panels that beautifully highlight one promising possibility for the humanities:  interdisciplinarity.  Here is a link to our provisional schedule — check it out!*  You can tell just from the panel titles that this conference features an exciting, diverse group of young scholars.

What you may not be able see just by looking at the titles is the fact that each panel is made up of scholars from different disciplines, featuring some combination of historians, literary scholars, poets, performance artists, philosophers, digital artists, game theorists, or students of new media.  It’s a very heady mix, and makes for a very thought-provoking day.

In the past, grad students from universities in the Dallas area have joined us for this conference; this year, for the first time, we have presenters coming in from out of state.

And we have Dr. Alpers.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to get a heaping dose of hope.  Says Ben, “As I formulate it, the tone of my talk seems to swing back and forth between hope and despair. Best not to predict either.”

Here’s what I can predict, though:  a full day of fascinating discussions covering a broad range of topics and uncovering sometimes surprising connections — some uncommon commonalities — linking these diverse inquiries and disciplinary approaches.  It’s going to be an exhilarating day.  In fact, it’s quite possible that after participating in our conference, Ben Alpers might leave feeling more hopeful about the humanities than he normally is. 

If any of our USIH readers are planning to be in the Dallas area on March 24, please feel free to join us at the conference. 

As you can see from the schedule, registration begins at 8:30, and the conference kicks off at 9:00.  Ben will be delivering his keynote address, “The Future of the Humanities,” at 1:45. 

At 2:30, I will be joining two of my colleagues in a discussion of “Why the Humanities Matter.”  Michele Rosen will be making a case for the value of translation studies, Sara Keeth will speak up for the rewards of literary studies, and I will testify to the wonder-working power of studying history.  Our moderator for that session will be Dan Wickberg.

All the day’s sessions promise to be interesting, and they’re all free and open to the public.  (However, if you’d like to join us for lunch, there is a $10 charge.)  If you can’t join us in person, you can follow the conference on twitter at hashtag #RAWconf.

The humanities do have a future.  Come see it — or, rather, come meet us — on March 24. 

*We’re still lining up panel moderators, settling on room numbers, and formalizing the layout for printing.  When the final schedule becomes available, I’ll update the link.  
3/7/2012 – 10:15 AM — I have updated the link.

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks Tim — but I have to give credit where credit is due.

    Putting this together has been a team effort, and our fantastic team leader on the conference is our GSA Vice-President, Courtney Dombroski. She has done a truly outstanding job — as have my other fellow officers, along with plenty of grad student volunteers — and it’s going to be a great day.

    Now, if I can just get that paper done…

  2. As promised, I have updated the link to our conference schedule, showing room numbers, panel chairs/moderators, etc.

    Please come join us if you can.

  3. Numair, I understand some of my colleagues have been in touch with you regarding your inquiry.

    Though I’m sure this blog’s readers would be glad to parse the phrase “reification of home” — and heaven only knows what they’d say about that — they wouldn’t be much help with the logistics of Saturday.

    Use the contact info at utdgsa.com if you have further questions.

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