Posted: September 19th, 2020
Recently, scholars from humanistic and non-humanistic disciplines have been involved in a debate on whether the field of humanities is declining. Many of them think that the future of humanities as an academic discipline is gloomy and bleak due to the diminishing interest by both students and society. On the other hand, humanities scholars try to justify the importance of humanities to society. This paper provides an annotated bibliography of ten articles by prominent scholars as they give their verdict about the state of humanities. The annotations succinctly summarize the readings and provide thoughtful analytical commentary.
This article examines the meaning of the words ‘the humanities,’ ‘science,’ and ‘social science’ regarding the division of knowledge. It also explores how the thinking ways of the modern English-speakers influence the meaning of the word ‘science’ relative to other European languages. The author postulates that the way English-speakers portray ‘science’ has no equivalent to any other language. They are under pressure to regard the ‘natural sciences,’ as the most valuable type of knowledge that society should pursue. However, drawing from the thought of Giambattista Vico, the article argues that the field of humanities is different from science, but also as vital to human knowledge.
All divisions of knowledge are important to human knowledge. However, society has a tendency to view scientific knowledge as the most important type of knowledge. Even in humanities research that focuses on people, there is pressure to model such research in a ‘scientific’ manner. Also, the validity of academic studies at school in any field is judged according to ‘scientific’ evidence. However, the author asserts that not everything is about science, and that the humanities field has its own goals and priorities.
In this article, the author seeks answers to several hard questions that challenge the identity and justification of the teaching and practice of humanities academic institutions and society. In the modern era, humanities continue to face numerous attacks from various departments, both from outside and within the academy. Thus, the author, who is a humanist, seeks a unified and coherent justification for humanities to adequately defend the field.
Garland postulates in the article that as a humanities teacher, he struggles to answer some of these questions and to defend the field from various attacks. To some extent, his concerns are similar to those of Wierzbicka (2011) because some humanities subjects are under ‘social sciences,’ and he disagrees with the inclusion of the word science. While Garland asks questions, Wierzbicka (2011) provides answers to some of these questions.
The author, Harpham, seeks to understand the meaning of ‘humanities’ and what humanists do in practice. He asserts that failure to clearly define the humanities discipline constitutes a crisis. Also, the society is in crisis when humanist professionals lose faith in their field and attempt to incorporate it to other professions or disciplines. Thus, there is need for humanists to understand their work.
Harpham’s concerns also revolve around the definition and identity humanities as a discipline. He suggests that many humanists and society in general do not know what humanist professionals do in practice apart from teaching. This assertion is confirmed by Garland (2012), a humanist who does not understand humanities. However, just like Wierzbicka (2011), he stresses on the importance of humanities to society.
This article explores the humanities discipline by focusing on the history of the civilization of humankind. The author finds that the field of humanities comprises of five main branches upon which mankind has continued to develop. They include languages, opinions, institutions, industries and pleasures. Thus, humanities involve modern scientific research that examines the origin and development of these five areas.
This article focuses on the history of human civilization rather than identifying the role of the discipline to the modern world. Additionally, the author claims that the field of humanities involves scientific research. This assertion is against both Wierzbicka (2011), and Garland (2012) positions who are against the use of the word ‘science’ when defining humanities. However, Powell (1895) uses the word ‘Scientific’ several times in the article when defining humanities.
This article discusses the importance of scientific approaches to non-scientific phenomena such as literature and humanities disciplines. The authors begin by contrasting how the world views traditional humanities with the sciences. They then continue to argue that science and humanities are not mutually exclusive. Finally, they affirm their position that scientific approaches can be beneficial in the study of cultural phenomena, by using several examples.
The position of these authors disagrees with the positions of both Wierzbicka (2011) and Garland (2012) who are against the integration of humanities with science. They however go a step further to provide sound examples that demonstrate how scientific approaches are useful in the study of human behavior and phenomena. Thus, they reinforce the argument posited by Powel (1985) about scientific research.
In this article, Ken Plummer discusses the importance of stories, and their significance to human life. He goes on to discuss terminologies, multiplicities, histories, and characteristics of stories. He further discusses humanity and posits that its study should involve both humans and their stories. Thus stories are integral to humanity as they add value to human lives through their interaction with the world.
Plummer bases this article on the premise that stories add significant value to the lives of human beings. Since the humanities discipline involves the study of various aspects of human life, Plummer asserts that stories form a significant part of the study. Therefore, he goes a step further and analyses almost all aspects of storytelling. Unlike other authors, he does not compare humanities to other academic disciplines, but focuses on how storytelling is integral to human life.
This article is an introduction to a book edited by Liz Stanley which comprises of a collection of life documents that analyze both narrative and autobiographical methods. According to Stanley, the collection of these documents is based upon a set of common themes guided by situation and context. The results from the analysis of these documents provide a rich set of engagements with the document’s research practice and methodology.
By creating this collection, Stanley tries to extend Ken Plummer’s work and his perspective in narrative and biography study to an array of contemporary and historical settings. This introduction outlines the purpose of the collection which includes examining how storytelling is the foundation of ‘documents of life research.’ Thus, to a large extent, this work extends Ken Plummer’s work about social stories.
In this article, Victor Turner discusses social drama by basing his hypotheses and arguments on his observations in a range of sociocultural systems. He begins by outlining his experiences in northwestern Zambia among the Ndembu community as he collected numerical data about the various aspects of the lives of the local people. Based on his figures as he further explains in the article, many narratives would arise from their way of life. Since social drama is integral to society, it presents a lasting challenge to a perfect social and political organization.
Turner’s argument about social drama differs with Hayden White’s theory. On the one hand, White argues that social drama is a story with a start, middle, and an ending. On the other hand, turner argues that it is a spontaneous social process that everyone experiences in every society. Nevertheless, they both agree that social dramas occur to groups of people with common interests and values.
The authors examine the current state and the future of the field of humanities. According to their diagnosis, the field of humanities is currently in a more significant crisis than ever before. The reason for this result is attributed to economic, technological and social forces that work to diminish humanistic forms of inquiry. The authors propose that, rather than humanists defending their field to non-humanist, the solution to the crisis lies within the humanists who should pause and hold a productive conversation.
The concern raised by this article are similar to those of Harpham (2013) and Garland (2012). The authors reinforce Harpham’s position that the humanities field is in a crisis. However, rather than rising up and defending the discipline as Garland proposed, the authors propose an in house solution to the crisis.
This paper examines the current state of affairs of humanities both as an academic discipline and as a profession. Many people argue that humanities field is in the decline due to statistics on declining funding, shrinking job prospects, and declining enrolments. Ikpe argues that society, rather than humanities, is the one on the decline. His solution is that, rather than changing humanities to fit society, humanists have to engage the society and provide humanist therapy to better engage with the world.
This article also identifies the problems that the field of humanities is currently experiencing. These problems point to a crisis just like in the works of Harpham (2013) and Sitze et al., 2015. However, Ikpe goes a step further and proposes a solution to the problems he identifies, which humanist engagement with the world as it is.
Most of these articles seem to point out that the field of humanities is in the decline as it experiences a significant crisis. The reason for the decline could be as a result of failure of the discipline to evolve with society thus losing its relevance. Although these scholars acknowledge the problem, few of them offer reasonable and practical solutions. Thus, the next step moving forward in the HUMA course would be follow up with more research about possible solutions to the current crisis facing the field of humanities. Also, there is need for engagement with all stakeholders to find lasting solutions.
Garland, Robert. “The humanities: Plain and simple.” Arts and humanities in Higher Education 11, no. 3 (2012): 300-312.
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. “Finding ourselves: The humanities as a discipline.” American Literary History 25, no. 3 (2013): 509-534.
Ikpe, Ibanga B. “The Decline of the Humanities and the Decline of Society.” (2015): 50-66. doi:10.3167/th.2015.6214203
Plummer, Ken. “A manifesto for social stories.” Documents of life revisited: Narrative and biographical methodology for a 21st century critical humanism (2013): 209-220.
Powel, J.W. 1895. “The Humanities”. American Association for The Advancement of Science 1 (1): 15-18. http://www.jstor.com/stable/1623950.
Sitze, Adam, Austin Sarat, and Boris Wolfson. 2015. “The Humanities in Question”. A Journal of Critical Literary Studies 42 (2): 191-220.
Stanley, Liz. “Introduction: Documents of life and critical humanism in a narrative and biographical frame.” Documents of life revisited: Narrative and biographical methodology for a 21st century critical humanism (2013): 1-16.
Turner, Victor. “Social dramas and stories about them.” Critical inquiry 7, no. 1 (1980): 141-168.
Van Peer, Willie, Jèmeljan Hakemulder, and Sonia Zyngier. Scientific methods for the humanities. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2012.
Wierzbicka, Anna. “Defining ‘the humanities’.” Culture & Psychology 17, no. 1 (2011): 31-46.
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