Are the Humanities a Luxury?
by Emily Waldorf
If you are a college student in today’s economic climate is it smart to study the humanities? Wouldn’t it be wiser to stick to the sciences, math, and business in order to embark on a secure pre-professional track? Not necessarily. The humanities is an umbrella term for the disciplines of language, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. The study of the humanities is crucial to a well-balanced society because they explore, as one scholar put it, “what it means to be a human being.”
Patricia Cohen wrote an alarming article in The New York Times, “In Tough Times the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth,” citing numerous colleges and universities that are being forced to trim humanities course offerings because of lean economic times. Humanities majors make up a mere 8% of total majors and numbers have been declining steeply since the turn of the last century. The biggest drop so far in numbers was during the recession of the early 1980’s which is worrisome given our current economic situation.
How can job seekers with degrees in the humanities survive? There needs to be a more substantial public dialogue about the necessity of the humanities and how they enrich the cultural fabric of the broader economy and intellectual health of a nation. Industry and the sciences need to be tempered by the humanities in order to make true progress. Now more than ever, we need the humanities.
According to Columbia’s Director of American Studies, Andrew Delbanco, President Obama is the best spokesperson for the humanities since he regularly references Shakespeare, Faulkner, Lincoln, and W.E.B. Du Bois in his riveting public addresses:
(President Obama) does something academic humanists have not been doing well in recent years…He makes people feel there is some kind of a common enterprise, that history, with its tragedies and travesties, belongs to all of us, that we have something in common as Americans.”
The humanities are not luxury. They are a human necessity.
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Tags: academics, Andrew Delbanco, Columbia, Faulkner, higher education, humanities, In Tough Times the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth, liberal arts, Lincoln, Patricia Cohen, President Obama, Shakespeare, W.E.B. DuBois