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Have the Humanities Sealed Their Fate?

by Chris Cumo

Underemployment and unemployment have plagued the humanities for 30 years, writes Robert Weisbuch, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, in “The Year of Full Employment,” published in the September 4, 2001, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The temptation is great to blame universities for producing too many Ph.D.s and too few tenuretrack jobs, but this rationale ignores the extent to which the humanities have made themselves obsolete by misunderstanding the nature of universities.

Those in the humanities act as though universities are crystals suspended in animate in solution.

“These arise first in the twelfth century, and the modern university is derived in its fundamental features from them,” writes historian Charles Homer Haskins in The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.

That is, universities have changed only superficially since then, retaining their function as guardians and producers of knowledge. This is a conservative view of universities, one that extols their role as repositories of the past, as they were in medieval Europe. The University of Paris built its reputation on scholasticism and with it, on Aristotle’s logic and metaphysics, and faculty even dabbled in Roman law before ceding its study to Italians at the University

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