November 16, 2011

Harvard Shakespeare Critic Defends Role of Humanities

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Prominent Shakespeare critic and Harvard Prof. Marjorie Garber, English and visual and environmental studies, said the humanities is often wrongly viewed as an accessory to education during a lecture Wednesday in the A.D. White House.

“The word ‘accessory’ has two meanings in society: fashion and crime,” Garber said to the crowd of approximately 50 professors, graduate students and undergraduates. “The humanities are used to accessorize business, law, journalism, politics and other fields.”

Increasingly, humanities are seen as a niche study that people return to either after they have made money or as a supplement to their education, she said. Garber cited the “Movers and Shakespeares” educational classes, which attempt to channel the lessons of Shakespeare into successful businesses practices, as one example of the “applied” humanities.

In these classes, “Shakespeare is the vehicle, not the focus,” Garber said.

Garber disagreed with those she said view humanities as a way to achieve “progress.” Garber said humanities should be conceptualized as a way to expand and nurture the mind, as opposed to a something which provides its own utility.

“Humanities is always on the defense, but I’m extremely skeptical of the lessons that people claim humanities teach,” Garber said. “The lesson can never be so simple as to say, ‘Don’t become a Macbeth.’”

Humanities, Garber explained, does not have the final answer and does not solve problems. Instead, she said, it is part of an evolving conversation between texts that give individuals new ways to explore problems.

She also said that universities should reorder their humanities departments to place a greater emphasis on collaborative work and what students wish to practice.

Garber is among the most critically acclaimed Shakespeare critics in the country. Her book, Shakespeare After All, was awarded the 2005 Christian Gauss Book Award from Phi Beta Kappa. Her lecture Wednesday was entitled, the “Future of the Humanities.”

“‘After the humanities’ does not mean some something is finished, but something is started,” Garber said.

Original Author: Erica Boorstein