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The Humanities. Brendan Rapple LIS413 Summer 2009 Simmons College. What are the Humanities?. Those branches of knowledge that concern themselves with human beings and their culture.

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The humanities l.jpg

The Humanities

Brendan Rapple LIS413

Summer 2009 Simmons College

What are the humanities l.jpg
What are the Humanities?

  • Those branches of knowledge that concern themselves with human beings and their culture.

  • Distinguished in content and method from the physical and biological sciences and, somewhat less so, from the social sciences.

  • Often placed in juxtaposition to more “practical” studies, which are designed primarily to help us make a living.

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National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act (1965)

  • "The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."

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Word “Humanities” May be Misleading (1965)

  • Many aspects of science deal with “humans”, with “human matters”.

  • Also, people speak of the social sciences as “having humanistic content and employing humanistic methods”.

  • However, these branches of knowledge and inquiry are not counted among the humanities.

  • Boundaries of the humanities are often very fuzzy.

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Humanities and Science (1965)

  • No single world view in Humanities -- generally much more agreement in Science.

  • No universally accepted network of truths.

  • Humanities much more diverse than Science.

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No Real Linear Progress in the Humanities (1965)

  • Science, Medicine etc. clearly manifest progress.

  • The same sense of progress does not exist in the Humanities.

  • We probably do not really know “more” about Shakespeare’s works -- in the same way that we know more about, say, DNA -- than we knew 20 years ago [Ross Atkinson, LRTS, 1995]

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Science is Cumulative (1965)

  • “Literature of science is cumulative in the sense that the important ideas and observations of the past are included in the current literature” Urquhart.

  • Arguably, if all scientific literature over 30 years old were destroyed, vast majority would still exist in literature produced in recent years.

  • “If you were a scientist trying to discover the structure of DNA when Watson and Crick published their article on the double helix, there was nothing you could do but pick up your marbles and go home. The structure had been discovered; nothing more need be said; and scientists moved on from there. But if you are a music scholar preparing a monograph on Bach and a book on the composer comes out, you are of course interested, but you do not burn your manuscript. You know that no one (including yourself) will ever be able to say the last word about Bach and his music” Garfield.

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Many Different Layers in Humanities (1965)

  • It is one thing to understand words in a text, it is another to understand them in relation to a time and its culture, e.g. Ancient Athenians on democracy.

  • Ultimately the search leads to the life that stood behind the text.

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  • Humanists study (1965)VALUE

  • Scientists are concerned with:

    • objective, empirically verifiable data

    • experimental results that can be replicated by other scientists.

  • Typical scientist is primarily interested in most recent research literature/materials.

  • Typical humanist may be just as interested in far older material.

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    Serious Implications for Libraries (1965)

    • Unlike the sciences, the humanities do not “withdraw” older secondary materials.

    • When a critical work is no longer in fashion, it becomes valuable as a work to be used in studying the history of the field.

    • Also the humanities cannot summarize effectively earlier publications.

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    • The scientist studies the structure of rainbows, not whether they are aesthetically beautiful.

    • The psychiatrist studies how a brain functions, not whether one’s brain’s activities are morally good.

    • Scientist studies technological aspects of printing, not how printing revolutionized the world in so many manifold ways.

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    Humanities Mostly the Work of Individuals they are

    • Though it is changing with computerization, humanists tend to work on their own.

    • Unlike scientists, they engage in relatively little team work.

    • Scientist works with colleagues, grad. students etc. in a lab.

    • Social scientists spend much time with co-investigators planning and executing field work, surveys, and data analysis.

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    Bibliographic Databases in Humanities concrete.

    • Not always of great use to Humanities scholar.

    • Humanities scholars often stress primary sources -- generally covered less well by bibliographic tools.

    • Some Humanities databases do not include abstracts.

    • Humanities concepts and terminology less standardized than those of science -- less susceptible to effective management through a controlled vocabulary.

    • Science databases often updated more frequently -- scientists require more current literature.

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    Humanities and Scholarship concrete.

    • Studies reveal that 70%-90% of citations in science are to materials 15 years old or less.

    • “The Science Citation Index® consistently demonstrates that about 90 percent of the millions of references cited each year were published sometime in the past three decades. And 50% involve papers published in the last ten years. As in earlier decades, the vast majority of citations are to relatively recent papers” (Garfield & Pudovkin, 2003).

    • The figures for humanities citations are 40%-45%.

    • “Having retrospective coverage may be more important to the humanist than having access to current material” (Sue Stone, 1982).

    • In most sciences 3%-10% of citations are to books, 90%-97% to journal articles.

    • In humanities, however, 60%-75% are to books.

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    Humanists and Books concrete.

    • Humanists like books!

    • They like being surrounded by them

    • They often prefer original texts to copies

    • Many need all editions, all drafts, all galley proofs

    • The old book may be at least as important as the current book

    • They want texts in the original language

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    How Do Humanities Scholars Identify Their Research Material? concrete.

    • From references in publications they read.

    • From communicating with colleagues.

    • From bibliographies.

    • From librarians.

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    Information Gathering Strategies concrete.

    • Humanist places paramount importance on the library.

    • Scientist often more dependent on personal collection.


    • Humanist views browsing, serendipity as worthwhile (perhaps a necessity due to relative lack of organization of the materials in the field).

    • Scientist is much more structured.

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    Centrality of the concrete.Library

    • Laboratory often central to the scientist.

    • The “field” to the social scientist.

    • But the library to humanists.

      • The creative and performing artist are exceptions to the “library as center” rule of humanists.

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    Still, Much Research Can be Done Remotely concrete.

    • Though the author is referring primarily to social scientists, her point is increasingly applicable to at least some humanists:

      “. . . with the development of digitization and the availability of numerous online full-text databases, the possibility of doing research at home, from an 'armchair,' and perhaps unschooled in the rigours of academic research, . . . exists. Libraries and archives that required researchers to schedule appointments, travel to inconvenient locations, and spend endless days researching a topic can now, in many cases, be accessed from a computer, with source materials available online (Sandra Shoiock Roff, 2005)

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    Difficult for Librarians to Satisfy Humanists concrete.

    • Impossible to collect in so many languages.

    • Libraries also greatly feel the pull between retrospective collecting and buying/subscribing to latest electronic materials.

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    Very Broad Research Vistas of Humanists concrete.

    [There is an] increasing acceptance among humanities scholars that any consciously created human product, any symbolic artifact, is an acceptable object of study. . . .[This] has led to the general position that virtually every symbolic creation must be considered equally worthy of study. Because any publication or human creation can have research potential, humanities scholars – and the information professionals who support them – have become increasingly unwilling and incapable of coming to terms with what should be collected and maintained, and what should not” (Ross Atkinson, LRTS, 1995).

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    Humanists and Libraries concrete.

    • Humanities scholars tend to use reference librarians relatively little.

    • Opposite is true in archives and special (rare books, manuscript) libraries.

    • Greater spread of individual titles used by humanities researchers.

    • Almost inevitable that they use libraries other than their institution’s.

    • ILL won’t suffice for much primary material -- accordingly, they have to travel.

    • The growing study of the masses and the common man creates needs for such materials as comic books, TV Guide, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Wired, and Details -- any publication can have research potential.

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    Other Humanist Characteristics concrete.

    • Humanities scholars tend to be reluctant to delegate bibliographic searching to others -- perhaps due to a lack of trust.

    • Humanists often believe that the search for information is important in itself -- journey is as important as the destination.

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    Barriers to Access concrete.

    • Lack of books and journals.

    • Sometimes lengthy delay between request and receipt of materials (e.g. ILL).

    • Loss of material (theft, mutilation etc.).

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    Humanistic Study is Broad concrete.

    • Retreat from the canon.

    • Humanist’s work is diffuse.

    • Hard to focus on a narrow specific area.

    • Subjectivism necessarily creeps in.

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    Humanities not as “Precise” as Science concrete.

    • Johan Huizinga once spoke of history as a loving reconstruction by the moonlight of memory, work which can never have the clarity of work done by daylight vision.

    • Humanist’s work often opaque.

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    Brief History of Humanities Study concrete.

    • Interesting that there was no article on the “Humanities” in the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910-11) though there was an entry on “Humanism” (Steven Markus, 2006).

    • “The first edition of the OED, whose supplement appears in 1933, does not include [the term “Humanities”] at all. Humane, Humanism, humanist, humanity, humanitarian: these are familiar cognates of the word human, but humanities was not the term of choice for an area of knowledge and set of fields of study until after World War II. The more usual (and broader) rubric was Liberal Arts, Arts and Sciences, or Arts, Letters, and Sciences” (Marjorie Perloff, Crisis in the Humanities)

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    Brief History of Humanities Study concrete.

    • Greek Paideia

    • Roman Humanitas

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    Paideia concrete.

    • PAIDEIA is generally distinguished from TECHNE, i.e. an education that is narrowly vocational.

    • Paideia was composed of

      • gymnastics

      • grammar

      • rhetoric

      • music

      • mathematics

      • geography

      • natural history

      • philosophy

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    HUMANITAS concrete.

    For Cicero, the primary function of education was the inculcation of HUMANITAS:

    • The attributes of the individual whose particularly human capacities had been developed to their full potential, and who had therefore become HUMANISSIMUS.

    • These capacities included the gifts of speech and reason, but also the social, moral, and aesthetic instincts that are peculiar to human beings.

      His ideal of HUMANITAS gives Cicero a right to be regarded as the father of classical humanism and by extension of HUMANITIES as an educational ideal.

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    Middle Ages concrete.

    • “Paideia” and “Humanitas” were adapted to a program of basic Christian education.

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    Middle Ages concrete.



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    Monastic Education Made Up of . . . concrete.

    Quadrivium:arithmetic geometry astronomy and music theory





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    Artes Liberales concrete.

    • Seven Liberal Arts were taught in the monasteries, cathedral schools, and, from the 12th century on, in the universities, they constituted the principal university instruction until modern times.

    • So called liberal (Lat. liber, free) because they serve to train the free man and develop her/his humanity – they were intended to liberate man.

    • In contrast with the artes illiberales, which are pursued for economic purposes.

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    Renaissance concrete.

    Umanisti: that is, professors or students of classical literature.

    The word umanisti derives from the studia humanitatis, a course of classical studies that, in the early 15th century, consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy.

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    Renaissance Humanitas concrete.

    Ideal of Humanism:

    • Qualities associated with the modern word humanity--understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy.

    • But also such more active characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honor.

    • Possessor of humanitas not just a sedentary philosopher or man of letters but also a participant in active life.

    • Renaissance Humanitas called for a fine balance of action and contemplation.

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    Renaissance concrete.

    • The wellspring of humanitas was classical literature.

    • For Renaissance humanists, there was nothing dated or outworn about the writings of Plato, Cicero, or Livy.

    • Recovering the classics was to humanism tantamount to recovering reality.

    • The humanists were convinced that the study of literature (notably of the classics and their enormous source of wisdom and moral reflection) would encourage humane and civilized behavior.

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    Renaissance concrete.

    • An important distinction was that the Humanities were seen as opposite to Divinity.

    • Humanists struggled against the dominance of dialectics and theologians who were entangled in abstruse speculations.

    • Dissatisfied with Scholasticism.

    • The Middle Ages were truly over.

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    17th Century (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • The belief that the classics, the mainspring of Humanities, are an inexhaustible source of practical knowledge was increasingly subject to doubt.

    • Francis Bacon and Science:

      • Mistrusted the humanist tool par excellence, the word.

      • Advocated a more systematic and methodical way of thinking than the humanistic exegetists were used to.

      • Was a great advocate of science.

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    Royal Society (1662) (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    "The Business and Design of the Royal Society is: to improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all usefull Arts, Manufactures, Mechanik practices, Engynes and Innovations by Experiments – not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick or Logick."

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    Humanities versus (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).Empiricism/Science

    • Essentially there was disagreement not only on which was the best method to gather true knowledge, but also on which approach resulted in the most useful knowledge to guide human action.

    • To this day these problems play a role in the discussion on the legitimacy of the HUMANITIES.

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    18th C. (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • Humanities and the natural sciences as complementary rather than contradictory disciplines.

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    19th C. (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • The natural sciences gained momentum and prestige.

    • Materialistic, utilitarian and biological views of reality gained ground under the influence of the natural sciences (and philosophical reflections on them).

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    The Forming of Nations (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • Now, the HUMANITIES constituted a great vehicle for the enthusiastic study and preservation of national cultures.

    • This implied a change of course with respect to the classical HUMANITIES, which had focused on the universally human.

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    20 (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).th and 21st Centuries

    The influence of “leveling” on Humanities:

    • The increasing numbers in education;

    • The growing influence of mass culture (emancipation);

    • Cultural pluralism;

    • Change from a culture based primarily on texts to a culture based on images.

    • Role of Internet

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    Classification of Disciplines (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    A long history

    Many classification schemes

    Question of a hierarchy of disciplines

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    Which are the Humanities? (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • A very practical problem for librarians and educators

    • University Disciplines/Departments

      • Often a useful way to define disciplines.

      • Each university has its own characteristic departmental organization, and consequent categorization of humanities.

      • More traditional, conservative colleges often don’t teach newer humanities subjects.

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    Check a Library’s Current Periodical Stacks (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • A perusal of the current periodical stacks of a large research library also points to a host of innovative and esoteric research areas.

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    English and American Studies (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    Middle Eastern and African Studies

    East and South Asian Studies

    European Studies

    Cultural Studies


    Other Languages and Literatures


    History and Philosophy of Science

    History of Ideas


    Classics and Ancient History


    History of Art, Architecture, Design


    Theology and Religious Studies

    Communication and Media Studies

    Music and History of Music

    Film Studies

    Drama and Theatre Studies

    Studies of other Performing Arts

    Disciplinary Domain of the Humanities

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    Disciplinary versus Anti-disciplinary (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • Some argue for distinct boundaries between subjects.

    • Others want to break boundaries between subjects.

      “Disciplinarians argue that keeping boundaries between fields of study maintains traditional standards and scholarly excellence. Anti-disciplinarians, on the other hand, believe in the creative influence of disciplinary cross-fertilization and see the salvation of endangered humanities in interdisciplinary collaboration” The Role and Status of the Humanities at AAU Universities.

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    Boundaries of Disciplines (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • Importance of the scholarship of integration, i.e. making connections across disciplines and placing specialties in broader contexts.

    • Importance of doing research at the boundaries where fields converge.

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    Growth in Interdisciplinarity (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).

    • David Marshall asks:

      “Imagine that one summer after graduation ceremonies, we disbanded all of our academic departments in the humanities and told the faculty to come back in the fall organized into bureaucratic and academic configurations of their choice. . . . What would happen?” (Marshall, Liberal Education, 2007)

    • Marshall believes that far more inter- and cross-disciplinary configurations would be created

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    Arts and Humanities (by Erasmus and Montaigne for example).VERSUS

    Social & Behavioral Sciences

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    Traffic/Borrowing sciences tend to use methods that are borrowed from the natural sciences.

    • The main direction of information flow is from Social Sciences to the Humanities.

    • Social Sciences appear to have little inclination to import ideas from the Humanities.

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    Major Problem for Libraries sciences tend to use methods that are borrowed from the natural sciences.

    • Contemporary Information Explosion

    • Specialization of Knowledge

      • In short, the growth of scholarship means that universities and their libraries cannot maintain a coverage of all subject areas.

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    Emergence of New (and relatively new) Disciplines sciences tend to use methods that are borrowed from the natural sciences.

    • For Example:

      • Women's studies

      • Gay studies

      • Environmental studies

      • Multicultural studies

      • Different approaches to literary studies, e.g. Critical Theory

      • Ethnic Studies

      • Cultural Studies

      • Film & Media Studies

      • Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies

      • American Studies and other area studies (e.g. Irish Studies)

      • Medical Humanities

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    Seems to be Great Decline in sciences tend to use methods that are borrowed from the natural sciences.

    • Synthesis of knowledge.

    • General understanding of knowledge.

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    "The knowledge explosion left us ignorant of vast fields of knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • Wayne C. Booth

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    New Models of Scholarly Communication knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    For the Humanities scholar just as much as for the Scientist

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    Nature of Scholarly Research will also Change knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

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    The Humanities Curriculum Today knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • Certainly changed since the 1960s

    • Inclusion of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary programs

    • Globalization of the curriculum

    • Proliferation of course offerings pertaining to

      • minority populations

      • ethnic groups

      • women and gender-related issues.

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    What Skills (?) to be Learned By Studying the Humanities? knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • “Critical and Creative thinking are not peculiar to the study of the humanities. The natural and social sciences and the professional disciplines also stress the development of analytical abilities, valid reasoning, good oral and written communication, and skills of inquiry generally. In manifesting these skills themselves, humanists have to be wary of the desperate contention that they develop or possess them in pre-eminent degree. So, too, for the suggestion that the intellectual skills refined in the humanities represent the core of higher education. The evidence for such propositions is elusive, for which reason a serious effect of the contention may be to isolate the humanities from the rest of the academy.”

      Evan Simpson. “What are the Humanities” (talk at Memorial Univ., 26 Oct. 1999).

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    Are Numbers Studying Humanities Declining? knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • The culture wars have been over a battlefield that has been shrinking for reasons that have little to do with the ways of teaching American history or literature since the 1960s and a lot to do with the perceived utility of a college education. The number of degrees in the liberal arts has been declining for a century. The biggest undergraduate major is business, which awards 20 percent of all bachelor's degrees. Education gives out 10 percent. The only liberal arts that are growing are psychology and the biological sciences.

      Catharine R. Stimpson. Daedalus, Summer 2002 v131 i3 pp. 36 -.

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    Are Numbers Studying Humanities Declining? knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • The number of degrees awarded is another indicator of the health of the humanities. Again, because statistics must be drawn from a number of sources, the information often conflicts or is hard to reconcile. In general, these indicators suggest that, with the exception of English, humanities at the bachelor and doctoral levels is holding steady or thriving. Unfortunately, the same is not true at the master’s level.The Department of Education's NCES, for example, collects data on degrees awarded as part of the IPEDS Completions Survey. . . .[C]harts based on these data show that while the percentage of master’s degrees awarded in the humanities has steadily dropped since the early 1990s, the percentage of doctorates and bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has actually risen in recent years.

      The Role and Status of the Humanities at AAU Universities (2004)

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    Are Numbers Studying Humanities Declining knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"?

    • “But I want to suggest that the failure [to pursue BA’s and PhD’s in the humanities] also comes from within the humanities: humanities faculty have faltered when it comes to explaining why their fields matter, especially to students from families in which the parents did not go to college.” Lynn Hunt. Tradition Confronts Change: The Place of the Humanities in the University (1998)

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    Are Numbers Studying Humanities Declining? knowledge that every educated man or woman ought to have known"

    • “More largely, not only do the humanities seem far less surely the center of a liberal arts education, but the liberal arts also seem less surely the center of education generally, which has grown remarkably careerist.”

      Robert Weisbuch, President, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (1998)