Upcoming Report to Address Challenges Facing the Humanities

In order to address concerns of declining student enrollment in the humanities, the Harvard Arts and Humanities Division is preparing to release an in-depth report analyzing trends in the humanities and recommending ways to rekindle undergraduate interest in the liberal arts.

The report is a product of The Humanities Project, an 18-month collaboration among Harvard faculty commissioned by Dean of the Arts and Humanities Diana Sorensen. According to Sorensen, the project aims “to create much more of a culture of interaction and support and general interest in some of the big questions that humanists address.”

According to chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature Julie A. Buckler, who was a member of the project’s original steering committee, The Humanities Project aims to bridge departmental gaps and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

“I see this as a multi-initiative divisional process that will unfold over the next several years,” Buckler said. “Each department and program will contribute and participate in ways that fit them, and yet there will be a growing sense of a common divisional culture and common divisional purposes.”

The document consists of three separate parts, two of which were written by working committees involved with The Humanities Project. The first analyzes trends in the history of the humanities and looks to the field’s future, and the second contains suggestions for curricular innovation in the arts and humanities. In the third piece, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center Homi K. Bhabha shares his perspective on the outlook for the humanities.


English Department Chair W. James Simpson, who worked on the first part of the document, said that although the report makes use of both national and University-wide statistics, it is essentially a meditation on the state of the humanities.

“The [report] is driven by reflective arguments about where humanities have come from, where they are, and where they might go. It’s driven by philosophical reflection rather than data,” Simpson said.

In response to the suggestions for curricular innovation, other faculty involved with the collaborative effort have developed three framework courses that, pending approval from the General Education Committee, will be introduced to the course catalog next academic year: “The Art of Listening,” “The Art of Looking,” and “The Art of Reading.”

“We’re trying to point to what seems to be very straightforward activities and experiences, and yet show how being truly thoughtful about them equips you to function in a much more lucid way, both on campus and then afterwards in the world,” said Sorensen.

Due to the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings, the release of the report was postponed. The report will be presented to FAS Dean Michael D. Smith and University President Drew G. Faust in the next few weeks, and Sorensen said that she hopes the report will be made available to the public on the Arts and Humanities website by mid-May.

—Staff writer Brianna D. MacGregor can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bdmacgregor.


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