Thanks to a tweet from Rebecca Frost Davis at NITLE, I had the opportunity last week to read Wesleyan president Michael Roth’s post about the humanities at his liberal arts college. Roth contextualizes his discussion with reference to recent opinion pieces in the New York Times that have been prompted by cuts at SUNY Albany. I hope a future post will address Digital Humanities, which is the focus of a NITLE initiative.
Roth notes a familiar peculiarity on liberal arts campuses–the oddness of presumed humanities disciplines being classified as social sciences whilst some of their courses are listed as humanities. We have a similar situation at Wheaton College, where the History Department in which I teach is considered a social science for purposes of governance but my colleagues and I consider our courses to be in the humanities for purposes of student graduation requirements. Noticing such seeming discrepancies points to the multiple uses of these categories and thus surfaces some of the complexities that affect debates about the future and utility of the humanities. College and university administrators have an obligation to help the general public and our students and their parents understand these complexities.
I was disappointed to find that Roth failed to mention Digital Humanities in his post, especially since the New York Times published the first of a projected series on the field last week. In fairness, I should note also that the print magazine of my undergraduate alma mater, Rice University, recently published an article about the institution’s Humanities Research Center without mentioning Digital Humanities either. These failures seem to me to be missed opportunities since Digital Humanities can offer students ways to reflect on their emerging digital culture as well as on cultural developments of the past in new and exciting ways that also contribute to the skill sets they bring to their future workplaces.