[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Sat Jul 9 13:26:04 UTC 2011

Hi Mark

The arts and humanities are under attack, especially in the UK where, other
than Scotland, there has been a 100% cut to the government undergraduate
teaching grant in all except STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering
and medicine) and a tripling in student fees to make up the difference.
Whilst STEM is ring-fenced by government policy the rest have to justify
themselves in a now competitive market. Some institutions, without STEM
programmes, now receive no government income for teaching. The subsequent
instrumentalisation of arts, humanities and social sciences is no surprise.

Here in Edinburgh, which will be affected by the changes south of the border
but in as yet uncertain ways, we are trying to look beyond the arguably
false dualities inherent in UK government HE policy. This September we have
a new MSc by Research starting up in Interdisciplinary Creative Practice. It
welcomes graduates from all subjects and we are keen to ensure a spread of
students, from STEM, social sciences, arts and humanities as the mix will
inform what the students can do together. It is its first year so we will
see how it goes but recruitment has been promising.




On 06/06/2011 07:09, "Mark Marino" <markcmarino at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi, IDC-ers,
> Last summer I met a computer scientist who shared with me his hierarchy of
> knowledge.  In his schema, the sciences were at the top and all branches of
> knowledge and learning in the academy fell underneath.   By his account, at
> one time, due to a collective ignorance, much of knowledge was ordered under
> the Humanities, but slowly over time that ice cap had been chipped away and
> had floated off and melted into the larger sea of Science where it
> belonged.  By his account medicine, astronomy, and many other realms of
> knowledge had been relocated to their rightful place, leaving only certain
> types of speculative philosophy, perhaps a few arts, and other trivial or
> superfluous enterprises.
> I don't think this computer scientist was misrepresenting his perspective to
> be provocative, though I do believe he knew exactly which of my buttons he
> was pushing.  His pedestal for positivism was built upon a larger progress
> narrative (that a humanities course might even critique).  Nonetheless, it
> took a long coffee break with a philosophy librarian friend to pull me back
> from the ledge or perhaps get me off the war path.
> In an age where very reasonable folks are questioning the value of a college
> education, when the digital humanities seem to be flourishing, and when the
> US and global economies are still flagging sending students into their most
> pragmatic shells, I wonder if it isn't time for a new kind of humanities
> course.   I guess I am thinking about something different than what I know
> to be "digital humanities" in as much as that can mean the humanities plus
> computers (not to reduce -- I just don't mean that version of DH.)
> Remember last year and Cornell's President Skorton's address?
> http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/01/humanities
> From an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic:
> Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities,
> said he has noticed increasing concern among university leaders about "the
> marginalization of non-scientific work" in higher education. "At every
> meeting these days, there is concern expressed about the status of the
> humanities and the fear that the humanities and to some extent the social
> sciences are being sidelined in a discussion about higher education that
> seems to focus almost exclusively on the economic value of universities."
> Are the Humanities under attack?  If they need rescued and if so how?
> So here's an idea, and this is not new:  humanities need to be able to show
> what they can offer even the sciences. (Now I don't mean getting caught up
> in the debate over the "value" of the humanities directly -- as that's like
> trying to defend a fine arts program on the basis of the Christie's auction
> price on a few Picasso's. Also Stanley Fish's retort that the humanities
> need not justify themselves comes to mind, but it's probably easier to make
> that claim when you are the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor
> and a professor of law.  That's not to slight, but to say it's easier to
> claim the humanities don't need to argue their value when you've already
> established/earned your own security.
> Here is where my personal interest comes in with Critical Code Studies in
> the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCS Lab), where one of the goals
> is to create new spaces for humanities and computer scientists to meet and
> discuss.   While I think it is naive to suggest that the humanities will all
> of the sudden be valued the way the sciences are, I'd be interested to hear
> about humanities courses geared toward scientists.  Not Rocks for Jocks but
> Greeks for Geeks.   Critical Theory for Civil Engineers.  I'm interested in
> classes that teach the traditional humanities topics but that are aimed at
> the science students --  beyond, say, the History of Science or the History
> of the Philosophy of Science. Which is another way of asking: what can the
> humanities teach the sciences (which probably plays into a completely
> useless binary)?
> I guess I've been thinking a lot about what humanists can offer code studies
> and can't help feel that we could design humanities courses geared toward
> science students that would be (actually and hopefully perceived to be)
> valuable to their pursuits -- with perhaps the long-term goal of not erasing
> but seriously smudging the division between the sciences and humanities.
> Don't get me wrong -- these would INCREASE humanities offerings, not take
> the place of current classes.
> I know I'm preaching to the interdisciplinary choir, but can anyone reply
> with actual courses they've taught or offered at their institution that seem
> to fit this bill?  Can we propose imaginary courses that might accomplish
> these goals?   Or does this in effect undervalue that work that any good
> humanities course does already?
> Thoughts?
> Mark Marino
> HaCCS Lab
> University of Southern California
> http://haccslab.com
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Simon Biggs | simon at littlepig.org.uk | www.littlepig.org.uk

s.biggs at eca.ac.uk | Edinburgh College of Art
www.eca.ac.uk/circle | www.elmcip.net | www.movingtargets.net

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