Debating the State of the Humanities

Marta Antelo for The Chronicle

July 15, 2013

Two recent reports that delve into the state of the humanities have set off a broad debate about the origins of a slump in those majors over the past 50 years and what colleges might do to bolster the disciplines.

Some observers have argued that humanities faculties across the nation are to blame for the decline. Others are skeptical of the value of a humanities degree in a tight job market.

Meanwhile, some advocates for the humanities argue that accounts of the so-called crisis are exaggerated, with undergraduate interest in the disciplines remaining stable in recent decades. Faculty members are pushing back against the notion that a humanities degree is a bad bet.

Following are articles and essays with more insights on the conversation.

News Coverage From The Chronicle

Harvard Mounts Campaign to Bolster Undergraduate Humanities

Reports describe coming changes in the curriculum, new internships, and improved advising, among other steps to reverse the slide in majors.

Humanities and Social Sciences Are Central to National Goals, Report Argues

The report, prepared for members of Congress, affirms the disciplines' importance to society and defends their role as a part of a balanced education.

Humanities Graduates Play Big Role in British Economy, Study Finds

A report on the jobs held by graduates is a sign that "the humanities are not in a crisis," says the head of the University of Oxford's humanities division.

Commentary and Analysis

The Humanities: What Went Right?

Enrollments are holding steady, and graduates are doing well economically. So it's about time to stop focusing on what's gone wrong, writes Alexander Beecroft.

The Humanities in Dubious Battle

Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman explore what the Harvard report doesn't say.

The Humanities, Declining? Not According to the Numbers

The slump ended long ago, writes Michael Bérubé: Enrollments aren't down at all, despite what the naysayers want us to believe.

Humanist: Heal Thyself

Harvard University's report on the decline of the humanities has some striking implications, writes Russell A. Berman.

English's Self-Inflicted Wounds

The discipline puts the curricular cart before the horse, and smart, wary students notice and steer clear, Mark Bauerlein writes.

Rethinking the Bachelor's Degree to Bolster the Humanities

Giving vocational degrees some elements of a humanities education and allowing students to have real-world experiences before choosing a major are two ways to revamp the undergraduate model, writes Jeff Selingo.

Elsewhere on the Web

The Humanist Vocation

A new report assessing the state of the humanities reinforces the sense that people no longer feel the intrinsic value of reading important books of the ages, writes David Brooks.

The Decline and Fall of the English Major

In the drift away from the humanities, we risk losing something essential in ourselves, writes Verlyn Klinkenborg.

As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused

There is now a higher distribution of career-focused college majors, but these degrees may be going to students who would not have gone to college at all in prior generations, writes Nate Silver.

Read the Reports

The Heart of the Matter

This report was produced by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, a panel formed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the request of members of Congress.

Documents From Harvard University

The university's Arts and Humanities Division produced its own set of reports that document the decline and offer some remedies.