A friend posted these articles on Facebook today.
First, my humanities degree is NOT a soft option. I studied hard to get where I am now. I may not have had much contact time at university, however, what I didn’t have in contact hours I made up for in reading (multiple books a week), essay writing (almost weekly essays with more than one deadline some weeks) and independent study. Anyone who thinks that a humanities degree is just the 5 or so hours contact time you have a week should try taking a humanities course.
Second, Who says learning the humanities isn’t useful and learning the sciences is? Some of the really abstract topics studies by scientists is no more useful than understanding how society has developed. Why is my topic – understanding the way religion and gender formed childhood identities and experiences – any less useful than designing a computer programme to find out how much weight hair can support (apparently up to two African Elephants)*
Third, There are multiple jobs available that would benefit from a humanities graduate. The biggest problem is that we are not given enough targeted career advice. Marketing an English degree is not the same as marketing a physics degree, nor is marketing a maths degree the same as marketing a computer science degree. In order to people to successfully gain employment after their course universities must provide tailored career guidance for different subjects.
Fourth, Children don’t need to be educated against the humanities any more than they already are. Schools and society already promotes science as infinitely more useful than any humanity can ever be, and this is part of the problem. If we were taught to value all subjects then subjects would get equal funding, equal work on different subjects would be valued equally and people would be able to make choices based on what they enjoy and are good at, rather than what society has decided is best
Fifth, Why is buying a home or financing a car seen as more important than pursuing what you really want to do? As long as you can afford to rent a roof over your head it really doesn’t matter if you will never end up owning a house. I personally would much rather have taken a history degree and end up renting a crappy house for a while, rather than take a nursing degree to get a nice house. Nursing just isn’t for me.
Sixth, Perhaps there is no answer, but constant humanities bashing is certainly not it. Learning from the past can help us understand the future, learning languages is useful, studying philosophy, English literature, film, music can tell us about society, about the way we think, what we do and help us learn from and develop from our mistakes. People need to accept the humanities – they’re not going to go away completely.
Seventh (and last) perhaps it would be better to stop promoting university as the ultimate achievement that everyone is entitled to. Some people are just not meant to study at that level, some jobs should have more practical, less formal training and some jobs just don’t need a degree at all. We must stop encouraging everyone to go to university when it is not appropriate for them, and encourage only those who will benefit, enjoy, flourish and/or succeed during their university education.
Okay, rant over!
*This is a real PhD subject that currently has funding from the government
Last week I gave a paper at the Women’s History Network and International Foundation for Research into Women’s History conference (The title makes it sound really impressive!) My paper went really well – I felt confident and happy talking about my latest PhD chapter and I was able to answer the questions at the end – none of which focused on really random Jewish related subjects that were nothing to do with my actual paper. I also attended a number of other panels on subjects as wide-ranging from women’s cricket to Indian Wallpaper in the 18th century. The theme of the conference was the local and the global and a number of the panels I attended focused on missionary work and the empire. Obviously, there is a really clear relationship between these subjects and the conference theme, however it got me thinking about if there is more to the local and the global than just empire. My paper – on Jewish girls clubs and the role played by religion in aiding assimilation – certainly didn’t go down the obvious route, but still managed to bring in the theme, specifically the suppression of global identities with local ones. A paper on Radical Feminism in the Australian Lesbian community in the UK brought out both local and global themes in political beliefs, work on the dual identities of Constance of Castile in the late middle ages brought out the issue of identity in terms of local and international identities. Whilst there were other papers like these, it was clear that the overwhelming theme amongst most of the papers was Empire and Colonialism. I would argue that, whilst an important part of history, there is more to ‘the local and the global’ than just that, and we need to pay attention to the ways in which the local and the global interract outside of empire in order to gain a full understanding of history.