Self-loathing Scholarship

Self-awareness is hard. Because, let’s face it—a lot of people don’t like themselves. And in academe, where social ticks and neuroses are disproportionally high per capita, we are bunch of Woody Allens walking around with all of the hang-ups and none of the jokes. Well, okay, not none…there are parodies of the profession galore. The video that circulated on youtube and about which my colleague Russell McCutcheon recently posted on this very blog comes to mind.  It made my academic […]

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Just What Are “The Humanities”?

So, just what are “the Humanities”? We know that, at the University of Alabama, the 23 or so Departments that comprise the College of Arts & Sciences are divided among three divisions: The Humanities and Fine Arts; the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The Department of Religious Studies, like the Departments of English, Theatre and Dance (the British spelling is not a typo), and the School of Music, are grouped together in the Humanities, to name just […]

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“So, Will You Write Me a Recommendation?”

Back in 2010, this video was making the rounds on the internet (I believe that the original version is found here, on the site where these movies are made). On one level it is pretty funny, of course–lampooning the naive undergraduate student’s dreams for a career in “the life of the mind,” as it was once known, by means of a harsh introduction to the politics and economics of contemporary University life. The humor, it seems, is in the clash […]

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Turtles All the Way Down

It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old […]

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Underestimating the Relevance of Obscure Research

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have asserted that the relevance of humanities and social science research for all fields, including the hard sciences, is typically underestimated. Rather than the traditional method of focusing on citations of articles, this research group analyzed the access through online journal portals, suggesting that humanities and social science journals are accessed more often than they are actually cited. The authors assert, “There can exist stark differences between what people claim they do and what […]

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The Lure of Hard Science

Can research in Humanities and Social Sciences be quantified? Is something lost in the effort to make our data into tidy, quantifiable measures? A recent post on Scientific American‘s blog argued that too often scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences moves towards the quantifiable to gain legitimacy from the hard sciences. The author writes, “Every softer discipline these days seems to feel inadequate unless it becomes harder, more quantifiable, more scientific, more precise. That, it seems, would confer some sort of missing legitimacy in our […]

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Follow the Money

The challenges that a liberal arts education faces in today’s environment became apparent to me in a new way this week. I noticed for the first time a television ad for a for-profit college that features a young man explicitly asserting that he did not gain job skills in college, so now he is training at this for-profit educational company. Beyond the ideological challenges that public institutions face in today’s climate, a clear monetary incentive exists for some to question […]

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Assessing Assessment

Does the move toward assessment provide support for the Humanities and Social Sciences or threaten them? Cary Nelson, the final speaker in our series on the Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences, published a provocative essay in which he described the move towards assessment as a threat to the “fierce humanities,” which he describes as “teaching that seeks not merely learning, but unlearning, that seeks to unsettle knowledge and assumptions in ways more fundamental than any exam can or should […]

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Assessments: To Embrace or Resist?

In what fields do students learn the most? The traditional liberal arts demonstrate the highest gain in student ability, according to data from the 2007 College Learning Assessment test, with the natural sciences and math scoring slightly higher than the humanities and social sciences. Matthew Yglesias argued in a blog post last month, in the wake of the UVa debacle, that recent attacks on the liberal arts as being of little value are misplaced (reproducing a chart from Academically Adrift […]

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Should Research Be Accessible?

The relevance of research is an implicit topic in a recent blog post (Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog) from Craig Martin, a religious studies scholar at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York. He questions why scholars outside religious studies often do not engage recent scholarship in religious studies when working on “religion.” He wonders, “Is this because ‘religion’ in the popular imagination is something so naturalized or self-evident that serious theory on it need not be read?” Commenters on his […]

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