Essay: The Public Futures of the Humanities

August 18, 2022


The challenge of demonstrating the value of the humanities can never be fully accomplished by showing that the humanities serve other disciplines. That argument assumes the value of those other disciplines, especially STEM fields, and relegates the humanities to a secondary position whose value is, at most, instrumental. The task is to show the distinctive contribution that the humanities can make to all fields of knowledge by keeping alive values that are irreducible to both instrumentality and profitability. The public humanities stand the best chance of accomplishing this task since it not only shows what the humanities have to offer the public sphere, but how various publics are framing what the humanities do within the university. Further, the public humanities have the potential to reorient the mission of the university. One reason the humanities are underfunded is that they have the power to challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism, its market metrics and financial rationality. Universities should be more fully engaged with public art, including literary and arts events, and the public for open debate as a way of demonstrating why the public requires the humanities, and is already engaged in its practices.

Dædalus, A Publication of the American Academy of the Arts & Sciences