Tag Archives: NEH

Disciplinarity debates – suggested readings

The media analysis project David proposed seems extremely timely. The top hits in a Google search on science and humanities brought up article after article about the crisis in the humanities, the perceived or false threat to the humanities by scientific and quantitative approaches, the scientism and the humanities (cf the very public 2013 argument between Leon Wieseltier and Steven Pinker in The New Republic – http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities and http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114172/leon-wieseltier-scientism-and-humanities ), etc. It all gets so old after while! And it’s not a new set of concerns.

But I came across a NEH grant proposal narrative / position paper prepared by SUNY Binghamton in 2008 for a project that sought to address the Science v. Humanities smackdown before it ever reached its current frenzy. They begin with “C.P. Snow’s (1959) description of the humanities and sciences as ‘The Two Cultures.’” And the project was aimed at breaking down this dichotomy where it matters most, at the level of the classroom (rather than continue the argument at the disciplinary level, which doesn’t actually do anything but feed the fire). Some of the project description is understandably very specific in terms of activities, but it also addresses larger theoretical questions, such as how humanities research and scientific research can complement or enhance each other in a given subject, and how a holistic investigation and interpretation of evolution, for example, could encompass different approaches to the material that are both equally valid and equally necessary: “Through evolutionary theory and its study of both ultimate explanations (such as biological fitness) and proximate explanations (such as the function and importance of the arts to human survival and development), we think that the 21st century will witness an integration of human-related subjects. Moreover, because of its emphasis on the crucial developmental functions of art, this integration can help restore the centrality of the perspectives and subjects currently associated with the humanities. ”

The project description also surveys the modern history of this disciplinary antipathy, which I think is very useful for background. Although it is not specifically a DH project, it addresses some fundamental assumptions and anxieties that contribute to current divisions and drive the debate in academia. And, as these ideas “trickle down” into the popular press, they generate both the less partisan articles like those David suggested, as well as those that politicize and perpetuate these divisions in (I think) unnecessary ways. The proposal is here: http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Wilson-02.pdf