Louis Menand, "Oh, the Humanities!"


Tuesday, February 1, 2022, 1:00pm to 2:00pm


Online; please register for Zoom link

Photo of Louis MenandIf there is one thing about which virtually all humanities professors, university administrators, and state legislators seem to agree these days, it's that the humanities are in a state of crisis, their enrollments in precipitous decline and their prestige at an ebb. Students, their parents, and policymakers still want things from our colleges; it's just that what they want, according to the current consensus, are economists, engineers, life scientists, and psychologists—not literary critics or visual artists. That, however, is where the agreement ends. When it comes to figuring out why the humanities are in crisis—and what is to be done about it—there seems to be no agreement at all. To some commentators, the humanities have gotten too impractical; our students want something more than obscurantist theories preoccupied with relativizing and "problematizing" everything. To others, however, the humanities are most in danger precisely when they get too applied; instead, they implore students to spend more time in disinterested contemplation. Which is it? Or is it possible that both critiques, and their attendant solutions, are missing the plot?

Drawing upon his recent publications, including The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (Macmillan, 2021) and “Too Good for this World: What do we want from great-books courses?” (The New Yorker, 20 December 2021), as well as the decades he has spent on the faculties of schools including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Queens College, Prof. Menand will lead what is sure to be a lively discussion about the humanities, their place in the modern university, and what we can do to "save" humanistic education from its critics—including professional humanists themselves.

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