The Challenge of the Humanities


An article in the Wall Street Journal last week decrying the shift in English departments away from the classics reflects the challenge that the Humanities faces because Humanities research often creates discomfort. The article specifically used UCLA’s 2011 curriculum change, which no longer requires semester-long courses on Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer, favoring courses that focus on issues of gender, class, race, etc., as a symbol of a focus in critical theory on everyone being victims. Her characterization of these courses illustrates part of the privilege that changes like UCLA’s challenge. She assumes that those doing feminist theory or Chicana literature focus on victimization because, it seems, she cannot imagine anyone celebrating the variety of voices, eloquent voices even, in the world. Critical theory and new ideas in any field can make people uncomfortable and may challenge assumed privileges. This discomfort is a factor in the challenges to the Humanities, including attempts to defund programs. Continue reading