Study the Humanities

"But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.  Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don't want to get a bunch of emails from everybody.  (Laughter.)"
-President Obama, in a 2014 speech at the GE Energy Waukesha Gas Engines Facility

"Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed."
-President Obama, in an apology letter to Professor Ann Collins Johns (Art History, UT Austin)

For our past two Critical Theory Reading Group series, we've discussed the election--and its aftermath--and the role of utopian and dystopian thinking in our current political moment. For the new series, and to kick off an uncertain and, for many, frightening new year, we want to consider a topic at the heart of our critical theory reading group: the humanities.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities (who should know), "The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following:"

language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."

Many writers (some with glee, some with concern) have pointed out that the humanities as an object of study seem to be losing their cultural cachet in American society. Critics argue that the humanities are impractical--unlikely to lead to jobs--and overly specialized: a nice hobby for cultural elites, not to be confused with real disciplines. Interestingly, proponents tend to use the same language as critics, arguing that the humanities do lead to jobs and that they are necessary for a full and enriching life (an argument that can sometimes ignore the material realities that make access to the humanities difficult). 

In this series, we will consider why we study the humanities. What role should art, literature, poetry, theory, etc., play in our lives, our work, our politics? How do we define the humanities, and who are they for? Who might they unintentionally exclude? In this fraught moment, it can be hard to feel justified making time for art and literature. There are so many protests to attend and senators to call, and so many of the people in our community are struggling to meet their material needs. And yet. We believe that the humanities are for everyone, and over this series we will practice articulating why and how they matter.

Events (more details in calendar):
Wed 4th (morning class): Context
Mon 9th (evening class): Read Fiction
Wed 11th (morning class): Read Theory
Thurs 12th (evening field trip): Study Art
Mon 16th (evening class): Read Poetry