What Should Humanities Institutes Do?

What should humanities institutes at universities do? Among other things, “prompt general efforts toward identifying the varied roles that the humanities can play in 21st-century society,” says Robert Frodeman, a philosopher at the University of North Texas, in an essay at Inside Higher Ed. He argues that institutes should focus on the future and relevance of the humanities.

Such a focus would have researchers, preferably in interdisciplinary teams:

  • Identify instances of success and failure in efforts to bring humanistic insights to nonphilosophic audiences, such as STEM researchers and policy makers in the public realm, and in corporations in the private realm;
  • Develop techniques, approaches and perspectives—that is, best practices—for facilitating the transfer of useful insights to outside audiences; and
  • Promote interdisciplinary projects with the STEM disciplines, as well as with schools of business, education and the like across the academy, as well as transdisciplinary projects with policy makers, NGOs, businesses and community groups within wider society.
  • explore the historical development of the humanities;
  • question whether the humanities should be viewed as “disciplines” at all;
  • re-evaluate the role of rhetoric in humanistic education;
  • theorize the problem of “dirty hands,” so that we can distinguish between judicious compromise and “selling out”;
  • pursue challenges and opportunities tied to the continuing development of digital culture;
  • rethink criteria for—and alternatives to—tenure and promotion;
  • develop new indicators of success and impact for humanities scholarship;
  • explore the seconding of humanities professors to other departments;
  • create lab courses and internships for humanities students (undergraduate and graduate); 
  • identify new institutional locations for the humanities—e.g., storefronts at local shopping malls

More here.

Examples of such work already being done at existing humanities institutes (and similar institutions) are welcome.

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Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
7 years ago

These kinds of directives always sound to me like: The humanities have no value in their own right. Get with the program and be useful to STEM disciplines.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
7 years ago

I don’t get that impression in this case. Instead, I see a desire to expand the circle of people we interact with in general. This strikes me as a recognition of the importance and usefulness of what we do. We can be of value to STEM, and also to consumers in shopping malls.

7 years ago

Mikhail Epstein’s Transformative Humanities Manifesto is a great contribution to the topic of future of humanities. He calls for coming back to the original purpose of humanitites – which are human beings and issues they have to face NOW. He calls for helping make sense of current and future world of a man and decrease the obssesion with neverending reinterpretations of texts which is very common in various fields of humanities (so called scholarship). He wants humanitites to actually have a real impact in culture sphere by preparing us for big changes in science and technology. I think he is very much on the same page as Frodeman.