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July 2013

the latest from Suite 603

July 17, 2013

Thoughts and ideas about the humanities, inspired by the
American Academy of Arts & Sciences' release of
The Heart of the Matter.

TYPEWRITER ERASER, SCALE X, 1999
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Of wastebaskets and typewriter erasers
Why Study Humanities? What I Tell Engineering Freshmen by John Horgan
Humanities Shmunanities
The state of the humanities in 1964 and 2013: Mary Rizzo sees little difference in the discourse
A Chautauquan on Chautauqua: Mary Ann Jung is the Maryland Humanities Council's Amelia Earhart

MORE ABOUT THE HUMANITIES
* Humanities Washington's op-ed in the Seattle Times
* Some long term perspective on the "crisis" in humanities enrollment
* A gendered look at the "crisis" in the humanities
* Humanities Montana: the humanities power imagination and build community
* Peter Gilbert on the short arc of history
* Looking@Democracy digital media challenge winners

Of wastebaskets and typewriter erasers

 © Volker Moehrke/Corbis
Credit: © Volker Moehrke/Corbis
During my junior year abroad in France, my professor, Mme. Bernolle, assigned a dictée, a brief piece of writing, on a monument. She had in mind the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, something material and solid. I wrote about a full wastebasket, a monument to the creative spirit. Madame was not amused. "Mlle. Mitchell, vous êtes toujours dans la lune."

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” has always been a great favorite and I love visiting it a few blocks away from our office. Almost 20 feet tall, it speaks monumentally of erasing, deleting, rethinking, rewriting.

The full wastebasket and the typewriter eraser, more physically relevant in past decades than now, may seem inanimate and passive. They're not. They are metaphors for playing around with ideas, mental exercise, intellectual activity, agility, looking at one thing and seeing another. —Kathleen Mitchell

Why Study Humanities? What I Tell Engineering Freshmen by John Horgan

"Socrates Look" by Ana Maria Edulescu. Fine Art America
"Socrates Look" by Ana Maria Edulescu. Fine Art America
In his June 20, 2013 Scientific American blog, John Horgan writes about teaching a humanities course that is required for freshmen at the Stevens Institute of Technology. "The syllabus includes Sophocles, Plato, Thucydides, Shakespeare, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, William James, Freud, Keynes, Eliot—you know, Greatest Hits of Western Civilization."

His pitch for the importance of the course and of the humanities is that, "We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. ... But it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever." The humanities counterbalance facts and answers with "uncertainty, doubt and skepticism." He notes that the "humanities are more about questions than answers." He closes with the comment that "science is becoming increasingly dogmatic and arrogant in our era, which is why we need the humanities to foster a healthy anti-dogmatism."

Horgan's article is available in Federal/State Partnership's online resource library.

Humanities Shmunanities

Cara Ungar. Photo by Reed Harkness
Cara Ungar. Photo by Reed Harkness

Written by Cara Ungar, former executive director of Oregon Humanities. What follows is an excerpt of her piece which is available in its entirety online.

The humanities are ideas. They provide us, together, with a lens through which to read, interpret, and, yes, act in and create our worlds. You can do this through being a professor, sure. But you can do this in marketing, innovation, design, banking, government, law, administration…wherever.

I’ve recently talked to close to 100 people who run the occupational gamut from medicine to marketing, from fundraising to design, from non-profit to tech corporate. Here’s what they tell me: we want people who can ask good questions. We’re looking for employees who are curious, who can generate excitement, who are keenly aware of organizational culture. We want folks with creative intelligence. We want folks who can collaboratively problem solve, but also think outside of the box. We want you to make us laugh. We want you to be smart. But we want you to also know that you don’t know everything.

These folks are looking for humanists, what Quintillian calls "a good man speaking well" and what we can identify as "a conscientious person, who thinks critically, asks questions, is receptive, and an active part of the conversation." Even though people say they want humanists, they’re scared of them. Scared of what that lens will do, once applied, to business practice. Because one thing I can tell you is that it WILL change things.

The state of the humanities in 1964 and 2013: Mary Rizzo sees little difference in the discourse

Click on the image to see the video summary of The Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities. Rizzo analyzes the video in her blog.
Click on the image to see the video summary of The Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities. Rizzo analyzes the video in her blog.

Written by Mary Rizzo, former associate director of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities who is now Public Historian in Residence at Rutgers University-Camden. What follows is an excerpt of her piece which is available in its entirety online.

The 1964 report that led to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the report released in June 2013 by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences are nearly identical in their rationale for writing the reports, and their understanding of the role of the humanities, the humanities' relationship to other disciplines, and what makes the humanities worthy of public support. The terms of the debates within which we discuss the humanities have been set for at least five decades, including the fact that it's in perpetual crisis.

In calling for what we might term increased prestige, the advocates of the humanities butt up against another conundrum: as the 2013 report argues, "the humanities aren't elite or elitist." But raising prestige also means becoming more elite. While the report includes a section on non-school institutions that work in the humanities (and quotes the very smart public humanists Peter Gilbert, Director of the Vermont Humanities Council, and Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils), The summary video of the report doesn’t include images of any regular folks engaging in the humanities.

To see the public humanities as only that which is led by a scholar (or teacher) in order to train others is to remove it from the real world in which people live—which is steeped in the humanities. I like to say that the humanities are when you leave a movie with a friend and say, "You know what that film made me think of?" and go on from there to connect it to your life, another movie or book, a story you heard on the news, and so on. These exchanges are what make the humanities important, but they are not necessarily what make them in need of funding. To truly democratize the humanities means that we need to understand how the humanities are at work in the world and to see the ways in which it can benefit from public support for schools, humanities councils, and other institutions.

A Chautauquan on Chautauqua: Mary Ann Jung is the Maryland Humanities Council's Amelia Earhart

Click on the image to hear Mary Ann Jung talk about being Amelia Earhart in the Maryland Humanities Council's 2013 Chautauqua
Click on the image to hear Mary Ann Jung talk about being Amelia Earhart in the Maryland Humanities Council's 2013 Chautauqua
 

Written by Mary Ann Jung, a professional actress whose performances portray historical characters.This summer she is performing as Amelia Earhart in her fourth Maryland Chautauqua.

Bringing strong and important women in history to life through acting is about making connections as well as teaching history. The beauty of drama is that it can inspire audiences precisely because it creates strong emotions and gives us terrific role models of people who struggled against incredible odds but managed not just to succeed but to triumph.

I put my characters in their historical context so as to impart bigger lessons about equality and fairness. All of them had to battle society’s restrictive rules, written or otherwise, of what a woman should do and her proper place. Some of my heroines, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Margaret Brent, fought unfair laws and practices not just for themselves but for other minority groups. Amelia Earhart tried to prove women are just as capable as men in aviation and helped promote education for females and more freedom in clothing. Clara Barton literally dodged bullets on battlefields in the Civil War, where she often wasn’t welcome, in order to save the lives of her beloved wounded soldiers. The stories of these amazing women show that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance.

Read more >>

 

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