Ways into the Future
Call for Proposals
Critical Essay Collection
Deadline for submissions: January 31, 2021
Stefan-Alexander Bronner, University of Connecticut; Matthew C. Jones, Northwestern University; Marcel Schmid, University of Virginia
In her book The Value of the Humanities, Helen Small defines the purpose of the humanities:
The humanities study the meaning-making practices of human culture, past and present, focusing on interpretation and critical evaluation, primarily in terms of the individual response and with an ineliminable element of subjectivity. (57)
In today’s world, meaning making is relegated to the private sphere. Most people do not have the luxury to have any deep affection for what they do for a living, beyond the fact that their job pays the bills. We can search for meaning on the weekend or at home with our families after work. Or, our meaning making is limited to bringing back food for our family. [JM2] In 2013, when Helen Small’s book came out, the situation for the humanities was not good. However, today, especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the situation is worse. The job market for humanities positions in programs, such as German Studies, Italian Studies, English Literature, and others has hit rock bottom. The professors who are inside the academic institutions pursue their corporate careers outside of the public’s eye, working on their publications to maintain relevance in academia, as their professions become increasingly precarious and exploitative. In light of dropping student enrollment and the growing influence of anti-intellectualism and nationalism, and compelled to do more than perform solitary research, create isolated art, and teach students “marketable skills” for their future in the corporate world, we and fellow scholars founded the Passionate Humanities movement. From today’s perspective Helen Small’s skepticism in the year 2013 toward the validity of the widespread arguments that the humanities are needed to preserve democracy on the one hand and to make people more resistant against fascism on the other could possibly be challenged if we look at the political stage in the U.S. and other countries in the world today. If we do not go back to Humboldt’s vision of university as a place where young people have time and space to mature as human beings, in other words a holistic model of education, we cannot expect a world, in which solidarity and empathy are core values for human interaction.
In the U.S., the crisis is already showing severe consequences. Programs within the humanities face major cuts in funding, e.g. German departments lose their graduate programs, positions are frozen, and the student numbers drop due to increasing financial strain. Disciplines like Religious Studies, Classics and other foreign languages do not fare better either since universities started operating with terms such as “research” instead of “scholarship.” Programs and departments consolidate, becoming large entities that only make sense in a corporate way, but not academically. Instead of desperately attempting to play along with the quantitative logic the corporate university forces upon the humanities, don’t we need to start justifying our existence from within and find new ways to advertise our strengths to the public?
Humanities departments should be thinking hard, […] about making graduate training ‘less exclusionary and more holistic’— enabling the disciplines to engage more openly and purposively with the public culture while preserving their critical function […]. Usefulness is not the corruptor of the humanities’ intellectual purity […]. More simply: ‘Knowledge just is instrumental: it puts us in a different relationship with the world’ […]. (65)
Isn’t it time to go out in the world and share our knowledge and our specific skills as literary scholars with everyone who is seeking meaning, community, and beauty? How can we add a practical dimension to our programs that address questions of emotional stability, interhuman relationships, family, the body and creativity? Don’t we need to be as present as we can be today?
After founding the Passionate Humanities Movement the next step is this book. It will consist of two parts. First, we would like to discuss the future of the humanities and possible strategies. For the second part, we invite academics, artists, and humanists to send in proposals with concrete project ideas. Contributions with more than one author are encouraged. What do we have to change to break free from the logic of efficiency and embrace the passion that has been suppressed in recent years? How can we engage with the world, with people?
Possible contribution topics and questions:
In the neoliberal era, do we still need the humanities? Do they have a chance to survive?
Which practical project do you suggest that underlines the meaning of the humanities for our society? How could humanities outreach look like today? How can we announce that what scholars and teachers and artists in the humanities do is crucial for all, both inside and outside of the university? How can we reach more people and change society’s perception of our significance?
Which concrete communicative strategies do we need to work with to challenge the current attitude towards the humanities?
What can we offer our students for their future?
Do the humanities have to make an effort to be marketable or should they withdraw from the neoliberal logic?
Can the humanities promise students to negotiate the grand questions of life?
How can we serve marginalized voices? How can we be more inclusive?