10 Predictions For the Future of the Humanities

Written on September 18, 2012 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

As the name implies, the humanities are dedicated to the study of humans, more specifically the human condition. Scholars in the field explore human behavior, culture, and beliefs through studies in anthropology, philosophy, history, religion, literature, language, and the arts, just to name a few. While these humanist pursuits have long been a part of a well-rounded university education, that could be changing. Rising student debt, a focus on majors that have immediately practical applications, as well as myriad other factors have sent many humanities departments into a tailspin as they work to manage slashed budgets and reestablish their place in the modern economy and higher education system. In light of this, humanities programs at colleges all over the nation must implement some major changes in the coming decade if they are to survive.

Here, we share a few predictions about how this struggle will play out, exploring the ways in which the humanities will adapt, grow, and find support for the work they produce in the coming years. While there is no surefire way to know if these things will come to pass, most seem likely in light of recent pressures put on these departments and others are already in progress at universities and colleges today.

1.    Technology will play an increasingly larger role in the humanities.

The study of the humanities may be as old as academia itself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks from the latest technology. In recent years, there has been a growth in the Digital Humanities (learn more about the field through The Digital Humanities Manifesto found here). Through this emerging field, those in the humanities are encouraged not only to embrace digital resources but also to make them central parts of studying humanity itself. There’s also an emphasis on making humanities research, publications, and primary documents available in new digital formats, which has led to many academics developing useful websites and programs that can be accessed and used by those in any profession. This process will only accelerate in the coming years, as technology becomes ever more widespread and ubiquitous and those working in the field rely on it for everything from sharing research to reading the classics.

2. Graduate and doctoral programs will be reformed.

One of the biggest criticisms of current graduate programs in the humanities is that they primarily prepare students to work in an already highly oversaturated academic capacity, limiting their options in other sectors and ultimately their careers. In light of this, some schools are already beginning to change their graduate programs, though slowly. Anthony Grafton and Jim Grossman, both professors in the humanities, have summed up the issue simply: “A first step towards adjusting graduate education to occupational realities would be to change our attitudes and our language, to make clear to students entering programs in history that we are offering them education that we believe in, not just as reproductions of ourselves, but also as contributors to public culture and even the private sector.” Expect to see graduate programs in the humanities make a shift in the coming decade, placing greater emphasis on professional development and skill building that can be easily transferred into paths besides academia

3. Job opportunities outside of academia will be highlighted.

Very much related to the changes in graduate programs that will likely happen in the coming years are changes in how the humanities are marketed to students altogether. The skills gained in humanities courses will increasingly be trumpeted as the stepping stones to a wide range of other career paths, especially in the corporate world. Innovative programs like BYU’s Humanities+ and the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities are already strengthening the connections between business and the humanities, showing that it is possible for a humanities degree to prepare students for careers in a wide range of fields. This trend will undoubtedly continue to grow as the demands of students and the tightened job market push those in the humanities into other professions.

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