Counter-Intuitive: The Humanities Are Not in Crisis

From an essay by Peter Mandler in the current issue of Aeon magazine.

…It’s become orthodoxy. In fact, so much attention has been paid to the “crisis of the humanities” that few have stopped to ask if there actually is such a crisis. Over just the past few generations, enormous changes have transformed higher education. These changes have brought a greater proportion of 18-year-olds to university. In the case of most countries apart from the United States, this brings a huge increase, from a low base – and thus tremendous changes in the composition of that student body in terms of class, gender, ethnicity and other key markers. In each generation, commentators have predicted (and policymakers have demanded) that the humanities would suffer from a more utilitarian, career-oriented, tech-savvy influx. But it hasn’t happened.

In the English-speaking world, over the past half-century, the proportion of students studying humanities at university has hardly changed. True, as one might expect, in the US, the United Kingdom and Australia, there have been fluctuations and important changes in educational demographics, most importantly more women going to college. The crude picture is this: in 1971, humanities students outnumbered business students; now it’s the other way around. But in 1971 there were also about 50 per cent more business majors than science majors; now there are about 250 per cent more….


2 responses to “Counter-Intuitive: The Humanities Are Not in Crisis

  1. Local anecdotal evidence: last summer I met a classics prof at University of Guelph — the fact that UoG has a prof of classics is already an encouraging surprise! He teaches an introductory course in Latin, no pre-requisite — and gets close to a hundred students each year. Astonishing! OTOH, the final sentence of this post suggests a serious decline in interest in the sciences, which is disturbing.

  2. There is also a massively serious decline in college-level basic music courses (what has traditionally been known as Music 101 in the USA), and in students taking such courses.
    A good friend of mine tells me that at her university (a famous one) across-the-board cuts of 4% were instituted this year in all departments except music. The music dept. budget was cut 40%. So it’s more than basic-level courses that are being cut in some places.