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Explaining the Humanities (1/2)
“If, because of cutbacks and lack of support from the federal government, literature and the arts and other aspects of the humanities become just parlor musings of the wealthy, we would have made a huge mistake,” Dartmouth’s president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, said in an interview. “Literature and the arts should not only be for kids who go to cotillion balls to make polite conversation at parties.” President Kim in the Boston Globe, November 8, 2010.
Geez, where does our President get this stuff? Cotillion balls? Polite conversation? Leaving aside his negative stereotyping of people of means, it sounds like Jim Kim thinks the Humanities are nothing more than a subject that southern belles chat about at a springtime do while sipping juleps: “Good gracious, Sissy, that man Monet’s waterlilies do remind me so of Daddy’s pond on our plantation.” Is it Kim’s goal that everyone, rich or poor, be educated to make smart talk? Oh my.
It’s high time we issued a fatwa on fatuousness and explained what the Humanities truly are. Obviously, our President has not yet taken the time to ask the same question of members of the Dartmouth faculty.
Look at the word itself for a clue. The Humanities, writ large, are the study of human beings in all of their awful, awesome and contradictory glory — but not via the analytical marshaling of great masses of digital data, as in the Social Sciences. Rather, humanists, using analogue means, seek to understand the varied aspects of man’s nature and the panoply of his sentiments: good, evil, right, wrong, beauty, joy, passion, hatred, love, faith, anger, courage and hope.
The subject is as elusive and complex as the number of people who have lived in human history, and humanists go about their work in various oblique ways: by looking at literature in its diverse forms, language, painting and the arts, film, music, history, anthropology, religion and through philosophical inquiry. In seeking to become learned in human nature, scholars of all ages find ways to ask themselves who they are and how they can live thoughtfully examined lives. The task is a demanding one because, almost by definition, there are no right answers to any humanistic question, though some are much righter than others.
Got it, Jim? And how are the Humanities doing at Dartmouth? We’ll see tomorrow. Hint: Pretty well, thank you.
Note: See the following sites for other definitions of the Humanities: The National Endowment for the Humanities, Stanford University, National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, and MassHumanities.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…