Who ruined the humanities?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

You've probably heard the baleful reports. The number of college students majoring in the humanities is plummeting, according to a big study released last month by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The news has provoked a flood of high-minded essays deploring the development as a symptom and portent of American decline.

But there is another way to look at this supposed revelation (the number of humanities majors has actually been falling since the 1970s).

The bright side is this: The destruction of the humanities by the humanities is, finally, coming to a halt. No more will literature, as part of an academic curriculum, extinguish the incandescence of literature. No longer will the reading of, say, "King Lear" or D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" result in the flattening of these transfiguring encounters into just two more elements in an undergraduate career—the onerous stuff of multiple-choice quizzes, exam essays and homework assignments.

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