Originally published in The Huffington Post
When you think "jobs," do you think "arts and humanities"? No? Well, maybe you should. You see, as the world gets bigger and the world's problems become more complex, employers seek more critical, comprehensive, and creative leaders. And the arts and humanities provide just that.
Let me set the scene for you: A 2012 survey of employers conducted by the Association of American Universities indicated that, "73 percent rejected the trend towards narrow technical training and wanted colleges and universities to place more emphasis on critical thinking and analytic reasoning." Another study found that, "78 percent of employers preferred job applicants knowledgeable about global issues and societies and cultures outside the U.S.; 80 percent found written and oral communication key; and 82 percent favored those with civic knowledge, skills, and judgment essential for contributing to the community and to our democratic society."
These surveys are well-substantiated by leading professionals from all fields who underline that many of these skills are found in students with strong backgrounds in English, foreign languages and literatures, the visual and performing arts, music, philosophy, history, or classics, among others.
If you don't believe me, check out The arts and humanities in the 21st Century Workplace site and you will discover that leaders from the world of politics, science, business, medicine, and beyond agree on the need for more students with strong humanistic skills.
On this site, you might find that in 2001 Google was hiring 4,000-5,000 students with a background in the humanities or liberal arts. Why? Because, they said, "developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill."
You might discover that for the Army, NYPD and State Department, the Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, local courts and schools, "the hottest job skill," one for which they can't find enough employees, is fluency in a foreign languages. They anticipate that, "roughly 25,000 jobs are expected to open up for interpreters (who focus on spoken language) and translators (who focus on written language), between 2010 and 2020, the Department of Labor estimates. That represents 42 percent growth for the field and does not include the military, which is also recruiting ferociously for more people."
You might enjoy reading "A Trip to Mars" by Elaina McCartney, former NASA Senior Mission Specialist who operated the Mastcam cameras on the Mars Science Lab, Curiosity. The short version is that her employers saw in Elaina -- a professor at Cornell University with a degree in English Literature -- an interdisciplinary vision that brought a unique quality to a team in which scientists look at the pictures and try to put together a story, "a story that can easily fall short were it not for the dimension provided by the humanities -- plot, characters, language, vision, beauty." In other words, NASA recognized that this former English major could significantly contribute to bringing Mars alive.
You might enjoy a blog on "Leadership Through Theatre" by Susan Frost, President of a Marketing Communications firm. She states that, "Problem solving, good decisions, visions, and -- of course -- critical thinking, are all traits required in leadership, traits we chase in hiring, training we search for to help our teams achieve greatness, characteristics that are easy to define but not so easy to achieve." And she continues by asking: "As leaders, how do we nurture these traits in our employees and associates? Content-based learning is not necessarily transformative. Transformation takes a different approach, one that the Humanities in general, and theatre in particular, foster through questioning and changes in perspective."
And, if you are a student thinking of going into Law or Medicine you might be interested to know that, according to the recently published Humanities Indicators, in 2008, 22 percent of those holding advanced degrees in law (LL.B., J.D., and Ph.D.) had majored in humanities (excluding history). They found that the average test scores of Humanities students who took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) had average test scores close to or appreciably better than students in the sciences. And that from 1991 to 2000 humanities majors were the highest-scoring group of majors on the MCAT, and from 2001 to 2009 only math and statistics majors scored appreciably higher.
Why are the CEO's of successful businesses, leading scientists and medical professionals, entrepreneurs and computer programmers not interested in hiring students with only narrow, tech- or profession-based degrees? Why is it that high-tech companies like Cisco and IBM feel that recent graduates lack knowledge to "analyze large amounts of data or construct a cogent argument"? Because, they report, '"It's not a matter of technical skill," but rather "of knowing how to think."
Getting a job is not about focusing solely on what you want to do, but looking at the broader picture. Think about including the arts and humanities in your education. They just might be the key to your success.
Does your son or daughter play Minecraft? And do you stand before that screen wondering what it's all about, and how it's possible that your kid doesn't get dizzy from moving around this blocky world so quickly? Do you wonder what impact these many hours before Minecraft might have on their brain, on their future? Most would say the game promotes a generation of computer scientists or software engineers. I say, they are telling only part of the story. Here is why.
A few days ago my daughter had two friends over for a play date. I was amused and delighted as I listened to them laugh and cackle. That is, until I heard Ben ask loudly: "Where are you?" And I thought to myself, What do you mean, where are you? Aren't they right next to you? Then Sara suggested they, "spawn a pig," and I pulled up the online dictionary: "To produce or lay eggs." What? And then I heard my own daughter scream: "Run! He's coming to kill you!" And I came running.
When I came storming into the room yelling "Is everything okay?" here is what I saw: three 10-year-olds looking at me in bemusement, my daughter's eyes quietly remarking Oh, Mom, really? then going back to building her world and running from creatures. And when I looked again, this time less frantic, I saw three kids sitting in bean bags with computer screens on their laps having a good ol' time interacting simultaneously in the virtual and real world, building houses and entire villages, developing mechanical contraptions that harvest wheat, making blocks out of clay, using TNT to mine gold, and fighting and surviving those zombies that were attacking my daughter.
I realized right then and there that I was witnessing the beginnings of a new generation of computer scientists and humanists, a powerful synergy of thought and action come to life in a hybrid world of creativity and play.
Minecraft, this contemporary version of Legos for the digital age, is being played on PCs and Macs by over 16 million people, and it has become many of our kids "toy" of choice. Our children will remember their time spent before Minecraft like we remember our time building with Legos and Playmobile, Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys.
Back then these toys may have indicated the making of a new generation of architects and urban planners. Today, our children's daily dose of Minecraft encourages programming and logical problem solving skills as much as it furthers imagination and design. For, what's a well-coded game such as this one without floating buildings made of different materials and colors, a community of players chatting and writing thousands of stories as they treasure hunt and interact with individuals from across the globe, and an oddly chunky look that nevertheless seems to attract millions of players?
Minecraft will not only produce our next generation of technologists but also of humanists. Our kids will not only need to learn how to code, but they will also require a solid background in Classics. How else will they come up with exciting new or remixed heroes and heroines? The world of Theatre will teach them to construct spaces that will captivate players through compelling color and design, light and engineering, human gesture and movement. And there is no other field more powerful than Literature to construct and deconstruct fictional characters, manipulate tone and mood, apply flashbacks, ellipses, and foreshadowing to fully engage players as their avatars move through time and space.
Computer Science and the Arts and Humanities walk hand in hand in the virtual and real worlds in which our kids are building, imagining, and communicating with one another. As such, Minecraft just might encourage Sara to become a software engineer, Ben to become a digital artist, and, my daughter, well, she might want to become both.
It really is a brave new and multidisciplinary world out there.
August 1st, 2013
The great irony of the summer of 2013 is that it has been painting the humanities by numbers. With every article, and there have been many, the Humanities have been measured by diverse sets of data that motion to its decline, its rise, or its bubbling (see links to some relevant articles, reports, and posts below). I find it humorous to think of the humanities as encased in boxes, tables and pie charts given that one of our greatest claims to fame is to paint outside the lines and turn numbers upside down. The humanities have been instrumental in breaking open traditional disciplinary boundaries, questioning how individuals and groups construct their worlds and themselves, solving problems by connecting, contextualizing, analyzing, converging, and communicating. What the humanities have been known for is proposing new ways of looking at the world and making clear that data does not, indeed cannot, present a comprehensive picture of what we humans do. How ironic, then, that the emphasis of our conversations this summer has led to a picture of the humanities as painted by numbers.
I personally find our contemporary turn toward assessments and measurements on a multitude of levels disturbing. I can’t help but wonder how numbers are meant to measure the melting pot of personal discovery, of knowledge making, skill acquisition, networking, remixing, questioning and deepening of intellectual curiosity that begins before college and spans an entire lifetime. Even more disturbing is the idea of measuring the value of the arts and humanities within this incredibly diverse and distinct scene that differs from student to student, place to place, and institution to institution. I just have to ask: if we give one point to one major, how many points do we attribute to a student who takes a class on ethics in a business program? How many points do we give to the study of music as applied to electrical engineering? To art and narrative in the field of medicine? What is the value attributed to the learning of skills related to creativity and innovation, critical and analytical thinking, or global cultural understanding? Are these skills owned by one discipline alone? When creativity moves from the world of art to that of engineering, entrepreneurship, medicine or political science, how is it redefined? What principles change and which stay the same? When do they start and stop being “humanistic”? What is the role of the arts and humanities in remixing the structures of the educational environments we are still so carefully coloring within the lines?
To re-draw or erase the lines that make the humanities count in the twenty-first century, then, we must articulate how and why the humanities matter in a world whose educational goals are far more integrated into our educational system than ever before, thanks to a powerful decade of changes on political, social, cultural, technological, and educational fronts. It is time to leave the numbers behind and have qualitatively different conversations about the value of the humanities in a world whose challenges increasingly demand individuals with inter- and multidisciplinary abilities, in a world in which the humanities are already and constantly converging fields and platforms, becoming more mobile and multimedia, moving between forms and lines and beyond a static image painted by numbers.
For some relavant articles, reports, and blogs posts, see the following brief list. For a fuller list of recent articles and discussion of the humanities in public discourse, see the 4Humanities “What Everyone Says About the Humanities” project.
Also posted on 4Humanities.
The arts and humanities might be going through a rough patch, but if you ask the Millennials they can tell you that disciplines such as classical music, visual art and fiction are alive and well. You may not find them living and breathing in your museum or symphony halls, in hard cover books or on century-old canvases -- but you might discover that their hearts are now beating to the bits and bytes of a new tempo.
Take for example Morgan, a student who took my Global Remix Culture class at Union College. She opened my mind to a new world of classical music as energized by groups like The Piano Guys. This American musical group, which includes a pianist, cellist and studio engineer -- not Millennials, but GenXers, by the way -- have been mashing up classical and contemporary tunes, such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and One Republic's song "Secrets." The result? One energetic and coherent composition called "Beethoven's 5 Secrets." And what is their compositional secret? Not to isolate, but to visually and viscerally elevate both classical and popular music through video mash-ups of piano and cello performances located in outdoor spaces including glaciers, canyons, and before the seven great wonders of the world. The result is a deeply moving, beautiful and infectious musical energy filled with a joy for composition and consumption that reaches across spaces and crosses generations.
Adding to this remixed appreciation of classical music in settings that inspire and uplift is the work of Lindsay Pollack, who began as a Rennaissance flutemaker in the 1970s and now creates different types of instruments through household items such as carrots and hoses. The rubber glove bagpipe or carrot flute are perfect examples of how Pollack, among others, inspire a new love for classical music among the young, admits Morgan, by personalizing the experience of, well, quite literally making music.
Classical art is no exception to the Millennials' embrace of a remixed and personalized culture centered on the arts and humanities. Another student in my course, Allison, shared with the class the cover of "ARTPOP" (2013), in which a sculpturized image of Lady Gaga is giving birth to a gazing blue ball before Sandro Botticelli's 1486 painting of "The Birth of Venus." The effect of this còllage created by American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) not only aligned the singer with the visual art world, but it also led to a new appreciation of high art that not only demanded extensive historical and visual knowledge, but particular interpretive skills needed to analyze the joining of three times (that of Botticelli, Koons and Gaga), three worlds, and three cultures.
Based on the analytical skills needed to interpret today's multimedia and multi-spatial and temporal worlds, Allison, who is an Art History major, is disturbed by the negative messages she and her classmates have received since childhood for their educational careers. Apart from the cuts to programs that removed opportunities in art, music, theater or dance from elementary to high school, the social attitudes she still has to face when asked questions such as: "What are you going to do with a degree in Art History?" and "Why not get a more useful major or minor?" deeply concern this young woman. But what she understands better than many adults is that the arts and humanities today are intrinsically connected to the everyday consumption, creation and sharing patterns of the Millennials. And that, in an ever-changing job market, her Liberal Arts degree in Art History will ultimately provide more opportunities than a profession-oriented degree, as has been well-documented by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, among others.
Allison understands that Millennials are customizing the arts in ways that allow them to document, share, and remix. For instance, she creatively defines Instagram's user profile as "a personal exhibit space" which tells a story through images and tags and which have led to gallery and photo competitions. In other words, the worlds of personalized, amateur creation are increasingly feeding into high art environments. She also understands that museums, galleries, theaters, musicians and artists use Instagram as a way to promote themselves and connect with others. The world of high art and customizable personal impressions are increasingly intersecting in spaces that expand and move beyond large stone buildings.
Today's visual and verbal culture is exploding out of the spaces and containers traditionally assigned to their existence and value thanks to the technologies and databases at the fingertips of us all. This is just one reason why the value of the arts and humanities cannot be measured by degrees awarded or money earned out of college. The thousands of fan fiction sites alone demonstrate the breadth and strength of today's artistic expression and storytelling possibilities. For this reason, Morgan, Allison and their classmates need, more than ever, the knowledge and training to become perceptive consumers, interpreter and producers of their remixed worlds.
This does not mean less support and education of the arts and humanities, less development of deep critical and interpretive thinking, less training of quality artistic products, fewer resources for the development of communication skills and dwindling support for the deep knowledge building and research skills derived from classes in Art History, Literature, or Music. On the contrary, it means that we need much, much more support for our young, lest we fall into a culture of amateurism, superficiality and blind following of trends and propaganda.
So let's stop talking about the death or decline of the arts and humanities. Let's explicitly engage with its rebirth. Let's keep an eye on the Millennials and let's give them the support and training they need to lead the way.
HUFFINGTON POST, April 25, 2014
Funding shortfalls and jabs from elected officials aside, what a time to be a humanities scholar. Increased availability and access to material, big data collections, and new tools and technologies provide opportunities for everyone to connect. And these connections move us beyond the divisions and definitions that once determined what scholarship was supposed to look like (i.e., publications) or who scholars ought to be (professors in university settings).
It is no coincidence that the word public is at the center of the word publication. In fact, the public, although in the singular, is made up of many different publics, who, knowingly or not, are already engaged in the research that connect the arts and humanities with their own lives and interests.
The opportunities and challenges afforded by technologies demand that both scholars and publics rethink and rearticulate who they are and how they relate to each other. For starters, academics working in the humanities must break down the divisionary descriptors between the traditional humanities scholar and those who identify as public scholars.
Faculty in the humanities are becoming what I call "hybrid humanists," because our work resides between the academic and the public communities we co-inhabit; we also reside between traditional analog and digital discovery, collaboration, and knowledge building.
To be a hybrid humanist means that we engage in a self-reflexive understanding of the tools and technologies, programs and opportunities that connect our research to our publics. As such, scholars today must find a professional balance, a hybrid state in which we decide how, when, where, and with whom our research can take on the most powerful of shapes and forms.
The general public might not think that they have much in common with scholarship in the humanities. Yet the humanities, more than any other group of disciplines, participate in a web of relations between knowledge building and public consumption. This is a network that joins scholarly expertise--such as an interpretation of Victor Hugo's historical novel Les Misérables--with the public enjoyment of its musical adaptation on Broadway and its thousands of fanfiction spinoffs. Scholarship and fandom converge.
To be part of the general public--which we all are--means acknowledging that there is an important place for humanities expertise and scholarship. Just imagine a world in which politicians make decisions about whether to go to war without considering a region's history, culture, or language. Picture standing on a bridge built by an engineer with no knowledge of a region's cultural and community environment. We, the general public, understand that expertise, discovery, and consumption live within a large relational web that must be mutually supportive. Without this productive engagement, our bridges would collapse, our international affairs would fall apart, and our worlds would sound like one superficial Les Mis monologue that spans an entire lifetime.
When you think “job opportunity,” you probably think technology, science, and business. You may think that a professional degree is a singular path to your success. Think again. In this economic situation in which no job is assured, most jobs are scarce, and few employers are waiting for you to knock on their doors, you need more skills than just one. It’s simple: one set of skills limits you to one type of job. But who stays in one type of job these days? In today’s mobile economy, you need a set of skills that you can transfer from job to job, that allows you to be flexible, have options, be ready for the position that is available today, and may exist tomorrow.
What investment in learning can provide you with more mobility and flexibility, and subsequently, with better and more fulfilling job opportunities? You may think: technology, science, business. Think again. Think Humanities. Think languages. Think literature. Think philosophy, art, music, or history. I’m not kidding you. Take classes in English, Spanish or German, as an example. You might think these courses are a waste of time. Why read books by Shakespeare, Cervantes, or any other author whose name you can’t pronounce and you will no doubt forget? I agree, you may never remember the plot of Don Quijote, nor who wrote that crazy long book. In fact, you could just as well look up the information on Google. So why take a class in Spanish literature? Because what you won’t find clicking, linking, and reading on Google is the effect of the words on the page, how the words play with tone and technique, sarcasm and humor, how they display the cultural subtleties that determine the meaning of the plot, its arguments and frameworks. It is in a classroom such as this, where face-to-face discussion and debate will open your mind to new ideas and offer you skills that you can transfer from job to job: smart argumentation, logical and creative thinking, subtle analytical perception, broad cultural understanding, historical contextualization, theoretical abstraction, and most of all, questioning of standards and values and the ability to interpret nuances in perspective and position. So the next time you think technology, science, business, think again. And do me a favor: go cash in on the Humanities.
- See more at: http://4humanities.org/2012/09/christine-henseler-looking-for-a-job-cash-in-on-the-humanities/#sthash.dBHF2Gqq.dpuf
The question: “Why Study the Arts and Humanities?”... ....haunts our disciplines every day. This is not an easy question to answer because the language and the outcomes of fields such as classics, philosophy, ethics, literature, art history or theater are often broad, abstract, and by some accounts, even elitist. What are the humanities? What is humanistic and artistic study anyway? And why should you care or, even worse, make a career out of one or more of these fields? Instead of trying to convince you of the value of these fields in a traditional way, let me propose for one minute that William Shakespeare was right and “all the world’s our stage.”
Imagine, then, that we become the actors and directors of the plays of our lives on this world stage. Similar to the production of a play, we would begin to envision the history and the social and cultural context within which this play took shape, with you as the protagonist. Where were you, our character, born? What language do you speak? What is your style in speech and dress? How does this style coincide with your life experiences, your background and ethnic heritage? What experiences might contribute to the way in which you view the world? What motivates you? What do you fear? What is your life story?
To stage this play, we would need to adopt, as Technical Director Steven Michalek explains, a host of different roles. We’d need to become technicians and “know science to understand the physics of lighting or the chemistry of cooking fake glass. We would need to know math to layout and construct an archway or something as simple as reading the fractions on a tape measure. We would need to know engineering to choose appropriate materials when building sets or flying performers. Designers would need to know about and be skilled in the myriad conventions of visual artists and sculptors in order to convey the appropriate moods and feelings in their sets, lights and costumes.”
If our lives may indeed be compared to a finely tuned theater production, then, as Michalek further explains, “the skilled theatre professional must also possess finely tuned creative problem solving and collaborative skills. Learning not just to succeed but excel within tightly defined parameters is the daily fodder of directors, actors and technicians.” To the extent that the theater serves as a metaphor for our lives, we do indeed need creative thought when times get tough, we need to engage positively and ethically with our neighbors and colleagues, even our enemies, we need to recognize that each and every one of our lives is determined by “tightly defined parameters,” such as family, class, and race. And each time an element in these and other parameters change, the entire world begins to change with it on what seems like an ever-moving stage of events. Were we to remove one of the above ingredients, say our ability to place life into context or talk about who we are, our ability to show what we do and what we stand for, then our play may be reduced to awkward pauses, silences, and absences. For us to remain on the world stage, retain an audience that witnesses our life's play, we must find a healthy balance between thinking and acting as historians, engineers, lighting technicians, scientists, psychologists, writers, and literary analysts. Remove one of these components, and our sets might well fall apart. Lights out.
Why study the arts and humanities? Just imagine your play without them.
~ Christine Henseler, April 30th, 2013
Translation into Spanish by Ricardo Pesado of Christine Henseler’s “Why Study the Arts & Humanities?” [original post in English]:
La pregunta de por qué estudiar artes y humanidades persigue a nuestras disciplinas todos los días. No es una pregunta de fácil respuesta porque el lenguaje y los resultados de campos como el mundo clásico, la filosofía, ética, literatura, arte e historia o el teatro a menudo son generales, abstractos, e incluso elitistas según algunas posiciones. ¿Qué son las humanidades? ¿Qué es en cualquier caso un estudio humanístico y artístico? Y ¿por qué debería preocuparle o, incluso peor, hacer una carrera en uno o más de aquellos campos? En lugar de tratar de convencerle al modo tradicional del valor de dichos campos, permítame por un minuto sugerir que William Shakespeare tenía razón y que “el mundo es nuestro escenario.”
Imaginenos, pues, que nos convertimos en los actores y los directores de las representaciones u obras teatrales de nuestras vidas en este escenario del mundo. Al igual que en la producción de una obra, querríamos comenzar visualizando la historia y el contexto social y cultural dentro del cual dicha obra toma cuerpo, con usted como protagonista. ¿Dónde nació usted, nuestro personaje? ¿Qué lengua habla? ¿Qué estilo tiene en el habla y el vestido? ¿En qué forma su estilo tiene que ver con sus experiencias vitales, sus antecedentes y herencia étnica? ¿Qué experiencias pueden tener que ver con la manera en la que usted ve el mundo? ¿Qué le motiva? ¿Qué teme? ¿Cuál es el relato de su vida?
Para montar esta obra necesitaríamos adoptar, como explica el director técnico Steven Michalek, un montón de roles diferentes. Necesitaríamos convertirnos en técnicos y “saber ciencia para entender la física de la iluminación o la química para cocinar falso cristal. Necesitaríamos saber matemáticas para diseñar y construir una bóveda o para algo tan simple como leer las fracciones en una cinta de medir. Necesitaríamos saber ingeniería para elegir apropiadamente los materiales cuando contruyéramos platós o tuvieran que volar los artistas. Los figurinistas necesitarían saber de ello y ser competentes en la infinidad de convenciones de los artistas visuales y escultores para transmitir el humor y sentimientos apropiados en sus platós, luces y vestuarios.”
Si de verdad nuestras vidas pueden compararse con una producción teatral bien definida entonces, como también explica Michalek, “el teatro profesional competente también tiene que poseer bien definidas competencias colaborativas que resuelvan problemas creativos. Aprender no sólo a tener éxito sino a sobresalir de entre parámetros estrictamente definidos es el pan de cada día de directores, actores y técnicos.” En la medida en que el teatro sirva como metáfora de nuestras vidas, ciertamente necesitamos pensamiento creativo cuando los tiempos se ponen difíciles; necesitamos implicarnos positiva y éticamente con nuestros vecinos y colegas, incluso con nuestros enemigos; necesitamos reconocer que todas y cada una de nuestras vidas están determinadas por “parámetros estrictamente definidos” como la familia, clase o raza. Y cada vez que uno de esos elementos y otros parámetros cambian, el mundo entero comienza a cambiar con ello asemejándose a un escenario de eventos en permanente-movimiento.
Si elimináramos alguno de los ingredientes antes citados, digamos nuestra capacidad para situar la vida en su contexto o para hablar acerca de quiénes somos, nuestra capacidad para representar lo que hacemos y lo que defendemos, entonces nuestra obra podría reducirse a torpes pausas, silencios y ausencias. Para que podamos permanecer en el escenario del mundo, conservar la audiencia que testimonie la obra de nuestra vida, tenemos que encontrar un equilibrio saludable entre pensar y actuar en tanto que historiadores, ingenieros, técnicos de iluminación, científicos, psicólogos, escritores y estudiosos de la literatura. Borremos uno de esos componentes y nuestro plató podría desmoronarse. Sin luces.
¿Por qué estudiar artes y humanidades? Simplemente imagine su obra sin ellas.
- See more at: http://4humanities.org/2013/07/christine-henseler-por-que-estudiar-artes-y-humanidades/#sthash.CcXcynDH.dpuf
Over the last few years and months, economic and quantitative data have driven public conversations about the humanities, emphasizing ideas related to “decline” and “lack,” “unworthiness” and “uselessness.” Through such notions, directives have justified cuts in funding and programs; they have oversold technical and professional schools and undermined the value of a balanced liberal education.
Yet despite these and other public reports, books, articles, and speeches, we still need to do a better job communicating who we are, what we do, and why we do it to a general public. We have yet to find a powerful way to speak up and speak to different audiences in plain language and through multiple media outlets. We could do more to participate in public conversations, whether through print or online media, television or radio; and we could certainly make better use of social networking sites and crowdsourcing opportunities to reach out to the young.
Perhaps we could use our creative digital abilities to crowdsource ideas and designs that market our disciplines? Perhaps we could put our writing skills to use by developing clear, simple, memorable arguments for the humanities, then publishing them on Facebook, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube? Perhaps we should think about hiring an advertising agency to develop our own national television campaigns in support of the humanities? Just imagine the power of a series of ads that appear on Hulu.com, YouTube, the Disney Channel, MSNBC, or, do I dare, on FOX Television.
How hard can it be? We are the masters of storytelling, the masters of contextualization, logical thinking, linguistic and cultural understanding, visual depiction and digital construction. We should be able to create, remix, renew, and envision who we are with no problem at all.
So what’s the problem? Why has it been so difficult to mobilize the troops? Why is it that we don’t speak out more often together, loudly and publicly, nationally and internationally against naysayers and critics? In an age of collaboration and teamwork, do our often lonely ways of conducting research make us feel too disconnected from others? Have our tenure promotion demands cut us off too much from promoting the humanities themselves? Is the competition between institutions too fierce that leaders can’t come together?
It is time to change our ways. It is time to organize and collaborate on a larger scale and to reach out and touch someone with words, images, music, and tweets. It is time the bumper stickers on our cars say “Go Humanities!”
Our collaborative efforts need to reach out to everyone, from all ranks and disciplinary fields, from inside and outside the academy, because it is when one business leader talks to another and when one parent has the language needed to articulate why a degree or a background in humanistic studies is worth the time and money, that is when our national dialogue, our policies, and our politics will change.
You see, through my work on the 4humanities “Humanities, Plain & Simple” initiative, and my more recent webpage project “The Arts & Humanities in the Workplace: Why Great Leaders Are Joining the Dialogue,” I have learned that we have more friends out there than we may think. We have friends in industry, in entrepreneurship, in medicine, in non-profits, in government, and in everyday life. We have friends in the STEM disciplines who understand perfectly well why a student with a music background makes a better doctoral candidate in Planetary Science (see the blog by Joseph Harrington on my webpage) or why my neighbor, Elaina McCartney, who has a degree in English, was chosen to operate one of the cameras on the NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission. For our advocacy efforts in the humanities to be successful, we need to involve our friends in the workplace and in fields outside our own. We need to reach out to them and involve them in changing this all-important dialogue.
If we can reach the parents of our future students, those who work in our neighborhood businesses, who design the software programs we look at on our screens or provide the social services needed in our communities, then we just might have a fighting chance to change the national dialogue concerning the value of the humanities. But as long as we continue to talk to ourselves, in our language and in our spaces, then only we will remain convinced. So let’s reach out and touch someone with the work we do in the humanities, and maybe the public’s ears will start ringing as well.