Urania’s Lesson for Clio (Humanities Funding Crisis)

Crisis in the humanities? What crisis? If there is one, it is not of the kind commonly supposed. The evidence proves that funding is collapsing, student recruitment wavering or plunging, and academic posts vanishing. But understandable concern over these problems masks deeper troubles, which are not the result of the economic travails that arts departments undergo, or matters of the prestige or popularity of the disciplines they teach, but intellectual challenges that arise from within the humanistic tradition and its encounters with science.

A sense of crisis erupted in arts departments in US universities last October when George M. Philip, president of the State University of New York, Albany, announced the closure of most of its degree courses in modern languages, literature, Classics and theatre. He made no serious attempt to justify the move on intellectual grounds, but presented it as a mildly regrettable adjustment to market conditions – the outcome of the need to “rebalance resources”.

The university lost $32 million (¬£20 million) of state funding in a single year, with a further $12 million expected to go in 2011. What’s left must be concentrated on useful and sought-after programmes, so the argument goes.

Evidence that has poured in from the press since then seems to support this argument. Last month, the American Historical Association reported a 46 per cent drop in the number of history-related jobs advertised with it, the lowest level in 25 years. The previous year, 15 per cent of the ads were withdrawn without appointments being made.

Since then, according to the association’s latest survey, the job market has collapsed, while the longstanding pattern of increasing numbers of students opting for history programmes has faltered and fluctuated. The same pattern, in even more accentuated form, is discernible in literature and philosophy programmes.

Economics, business studies, computer studies and other courses popularly associated with job opportunities have, by contrast, begun to show signs of recovery from the austerity of recent years, attracting relatively more funding, more students and more posts. Now Republicans have proposed abolishing the National Endowment for the Humanities – the world’s largest single source of arts research funding.

Read full story.


Guiding light in death’s shadow

Greats back humanities’ role in democratic health and personal consolation. Matthew Reisz writes

Scientists and philosophers rallied to the defence of the beleaguered humanities at a panel discussion organised by the British Philosophical Association last week.

Speaking at the London School of Economics on Valuing the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, said the arguments for the disciplines “should persuade anyone committed to democracy, even if the arts are not important to them personally”.

“Studying Plato, for example, helps you to accept nothing on trust and to think things through – and that can help democracies survive the present onslaught of sound bites and moral insults,” she said.

Lord Rees, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, agreed that “a liberal education can help us get beyond tabloid slogans”. As president of the Royal Society, he said, he had made common cause with his counterpart at the British Academy, Sir Adam Roberts, in defending the humanities – even though he had stopped short of joining him on a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

Richard Smith said he wanted “to defend the humanities on behalf of medicine – which is engaged in an unwinnable battle against death, suffering and pain”. Dr Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, is now an honorary professor at the University of Warwick and director of the Ovations initiative to combat chronic disease in the developing world.

Read full story in Times Higher Education.


“World Crisis in Humanities” @timeshighered

Martha Nussbaum fears our critical culture, inculcated by a liberal arts education, is under attack, with democracy itself coming under threat. Matthew Reisz thinks her case is overstated

It is precisely because Martha Nussbaum is so obviously one of the stars of the American academy that many people will be inclined to sit up and listen when she produces “a call to action” about “a worldwide crisis in education”.

Her new book, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, certainly pulls no punches. “We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance,” she writes, “a crisis that goes largely unnoticed, like a cancer; a crisis that is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of democratic self-government (than the economic crisis of 2008).”

She fears that current major trends within education are “producing a greedy obtuseness and a technically trained docility that threaten the very life of democracy itself”, and that “all modern societies are rapidly losing the battle, as they feed the forces that lead to violence and dehumanisation”. At stake is whether we are going to end up with “a world that is worth living in”.

Read full story – whether the situation is as dire, especially in the UK.


Money for Antique Rope

Oh dear, not great timing for an attack on the humanities – see why I study history.

Most humanities ‘research’ is the self-indulgent pursuit of obscure hobbies that neither need nor merit funding, and produces only unsold, unread and unreadable books, argues Clive Bloom

Don’t get me wrong – I can easily live with the occasional bung. There’s nothing I’d like better than to travel first class, fill my spare room with duck houses and build a moat around my suburban semi (second home and mortgage taken care of); if you want me to, I’ll even find time to drag myself on to that flight to the Caribbean for a little lobbying. Just leave a brown envelope filled with used notes round the back of the humanities block and I’m your man.

But I draw the line at research handouts for lecturers who don’t need them. No academic that I’ve ever met works nine to five, five days a week. With three months of holiday and every weekend free, who really needs a cash incentive to finish that groundbreaking study of the use of intransitive verbs in Elizabeth Gaskell’s work or undertake that much-needed study of medieval Provencal plainsong, the only window of opportunity for a research trip being July?

Read full story in Times Higher Education.

Academic Digital

Humbox (Open Educational Resource)

A couple of days ago I went to a talk at the University of Winchester (where I work) about Humbox. Mick Jardine, one of our Arts lecturers is a partner in Humbox, and had invited the central project team to come and show us what it can do, before it goes live on 26th February 2010. Missed the first 20 minutes of a talk, as had to come from another meeting, but what I heard was really interesting, and the team is still debating terms of interactivity, quality, peer-review, copyright, etc. Many of these ideas have been considered, but there’s not always an easy answer to them.

What is Humbox?
The HumBox project is part of a wider Open Educational Resources initiative funded by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and the HEA, to showcase UK Higher Education by encouraging teachers within HE institutions to publish excellent teaching and learning resources openly on the web, focused around four Humanities Subject Centres: LLAS, English, History and Philosophical and Religious Studies.


As a test, on Tuesday evening, I loaded up my presentation from yesterday, and an hour later had already had 27 views (which as there’s only 70 full users I think is quite impressive) – wonder if any of them will comment on it, although I’m not sure that feature is fully enabled yet!

Humbox Profile

Each user has a profile page, from which resources published, views, and bookmarks of other resources are connected. I’m not entirely sure if there’s going to be a user URL, but it’s fairly straightforward to find people through the search function if you know who you’re looking for. I’m still not in the least clear on the difference between a Resource and a Collection, but hope that will become clear as I use it.