The Humanities Must Argue for Themselves09-09-2021
Len Gutkin interviews Bard College President Leon Botstein about liberal arts, political repression and the humanities. Responding to the crisis of the humanities, Botstein says:
The decline of the humanities is something we have to answer. And some of the reasons are self-inflicted. The reason that, at Bard, literature is vital, is because the writing of literature and the study of literature are combined. We don’t run our faculty through specialized departments. The discipline and the specialization don’t overlap. We respect specialization, we respect scholarship, we encourage it. But the way problems are framed and answered doesn’t necessarily cohere with the way graduate universities produce Ph.D.s in the humanities.
So we have to stop worrying that we as humanists are not in a monopoly professional situation about a subject that someone who’s a physicist, or a biotechnology expert, is. We need not to worry that we could be a service discipline; there’s nothing wrong with that. We love having people in our classes who are not musicians and don’t want to become professional musicians — who are amateurs. That’s great.
The humanities have to make the argument for themselves in a way that doesn’t necessarily fall into the patterns of professional career development, as defined by the graduate schools.