Courtesy of U.C. Santa Barbara and Wikimedia Commons

February 7, 2019

U.C. Santa Barbara Professor Calls for Reconstruction of Humanities

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Expressing a need for more funding for the humanities to reap benefits beyond economic value, Prof. Christopher Newfield M.A. ’84 Ph.D. ’88, literature and American studies, University of California, Santa Barbara gave a lecture titled “What the Humanities are for: Two Responses to Vulnerability” on Wednesday.

The lecture focused on the teaching of humanities in higher education, and how the economy and social situations can be shaped by such a curriculum.

Newfield’s presentation referenced several other writers and thinkers engaging with the value of the humanities. He quoted author Mark Edmundson in saying that humanities majors “engage in the activity that Plato commends — seeking to understand themselves and how they ought to lead their lives.”

He first presented how some people idealize universities as embodying “the principle of equality for all” and “the democratization of intelligence.” These ideals, Newfield said, result in “non-market benefits that have enormous value to outside society.”

Newfield also argued that when the value of a college degree rests on its economic value, it makes universities “emphasize the monetizable skills” of a degree, resulting in liberal arts degrees being put in a “subordinate position.”

The advocacy for humanities funding “is not an anti-STEM comment, rather a pro-humanities stance where we cannot do our research without money that is currently being removed for other high-cost departments,” Newfield said.

He identified the lack of emphasis on humanities as partially motivated by money, where researchers in the field “cannot fund what would be needed to gain systematic knowledge to critically solve problems.”

Newfield advocated a “massive humanities research program, in which we argue for a scale of funding which we were not able to argue for before.” He elaborated, “What I would like for us to think about is how to set up an international research agenda in which these projects are pursued in groups.”

“We want to be able to render this on a scale that is visible to the outside world, with national organizations involved that would take this up,” Newfield said.