Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill: An Invitation to Participate #fight4edu

Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill: An Invitation to Participate #fight4edu


October Online Reading Group and Discussion - #fight4edu

Please join this student-led reading group, Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill.  This is the third of eight conversations in The University Worth Fighting For, a year-long project designed to tie student-centered, engaged practices in our classrooms to larger issues of institutional change, equality, race, gender, and all forms of social justice.  

We hope community college, undergraduate, and graduate students anywhere will join this conversation, and we hope faculty members might challenge their students to contribute. We encourage lively debate, respectful of difference.

Previous Conversations in the Series: 

Each month, we host a livestreamed workshop that corresponds to the online forum. Here are the details for this month:

Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill
Thursday, October 22, from 1-2pm; The Graduate Center, CUNY (Room 9205)
RSVP here.
Watch the livestream at bit.ly/FuturesED-live.

Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill

How Do I Join the Conversation?

Add comments in the comments section below, and on Twitter using #fight4edu. HASTAC is an open, free network. Log in or register as a new user to leave a comment.

Discussion Group Leaders:

Sponsoring Organizations: 

HASTAC and The Futures Initiative

Suggested Readings and Viewings:

Share your thoughts, questions, and other resources. Join the discussion by adding your comment below! You can also participate by tweeting at #fight4edu and #NEHturns50, as we will connect this discussion with the NEH's 50th anniversary celebration of the humanities.


There has been an ongoing debate surrounding the relevance and importance of teaching the humanities in higher education. Although some have deemed teaching humanities are no longer valuable in today’s competitive job market, I believe (as others have argued) that the humanities are absolutely essential, especially for the new majority (i.e., underrepresented students) who have been largely educated in passive or “transmission” type pedagogies. Recent advances in educational theory clearly point to the need to promote more active and engaged teaching and learning practices. The tools needed to illuminate and make connections throughout cultural and historical contexts, creative and critical thinking, and cross-disciplinary knowledge place the humanities in a critical role across educational institutions. As a former community college student, I believe the humanities have plenty to offer for the increasingly diverse student population of today’s society.  

For one, the humanities can enhance student agency, especially for the new majority (i.e. underrepresented students) which has been largely educated in transmission type pedagogies that foster passivity. Through expanding their vision and opening up different sociocultural horizons, we  can help problematize and challenge adapting to the status quo and other deterministic and fatalist positions. Critical engagement helps disentangle what is, from what ought to be and thus calls for developing a vision about what kind of society we want to help to create (Stetsenko, 2010).

A perspective on the role of education, which deeply resonates with me, is Anna Stetsenko’s in which she argues, education is not about acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowing, but an active project of being a unique individual that contributes to the world (Stetsenko, 2009).

This leads to the second point in that the humanities has the tools to reveal how worldviews and perspectives can be different in other places as well as historically. In other words, the humanities bring awareness of diversity and powerfully challenges ethnocentrism. Thus, it guides students to “develop a compass about our [their] current location in the ongoing flow of transformative collaborative practices, in which they are provided the tools to critically examine their history, present, and where they are going, and ought to be going, next” (Stetsenko, 2010).

Finally, humanities knowledge allows for systematically connecting local and global phenomena as well as past and present sociocultural processes; all of which are indispensable tools for students to position themselves in the flow of these practices.

In anticipation of “Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill” these ideas have inspired me with the following questions I hope will spark an exciting discussion:

a)  How are the humanities and the social sciences relevant in today’s rapidly changing world?

b) How can  humanities and social science knowledge promote student agency, especially for the new majority (i.e. underrepresented students)?  

c)  For these students who have been largely educated in passive or transmission type pedagogies, how can this be done in the most democratic and non-authoritarian way possible?

d) If you are teaching in the humanities, what are some of the challenges and joys you find in teaching it?

e)  How can we teach the humanities in a way that promotes student-centered learning and pedagogy?



You raise a lot of excellent questions but I find myself most concerned with the concluding one. An instructor friend and I were discussing how problematic it is when, as a GTA, you're often caught in a position where you have to choose between your own studies and the work of teaching. Of course, most of us go through this but I'm curious if others have felt more tensions between these responsibilities as the humanities' budgets get tighter. In that environment, what are the best methods of balancing our desire to mentor and teach with the need to produce creative, productive research?



I've felt it in a STEM department as a student who can manage a heavier course load than most of my classmates and keep writing and teaching with it. We have to take 2 classes that count towards our degrees each semester, to maintain the TA-ship as masters students, and that's a full time course load for a TA. 

We teach a class. 

As masters students, we're not necessarily expected to be doing research, but some of us are doing so.

Time management becomes a big issue, but no matter how well we manage our time there is only so much of it in the day, in the week, in the month, and rest is important for producing creative work as well. 

Who hasn't felt that tension, really?


Mark, excellent questions to guide this discussion! In reading through the contributions to this forum, Cathy’s questions inform my answers some of your questions. When we dismantle traditional educational roles and position ourselves as teachers of and learners from our student, we create avenues for student agency and development. If Anna Stetsenko’s (2009) line of inquiry is adapted to student agency in the classroom, we could view student engagement as “not about acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowing, but an active project of being a unique individual that contributes to” the development of our curricula and pedagogical praxis. As an example, take how we traditionally approach curriculum design. We draft our syllabi, define our course goals and student learning outcomes, select texts and media for our students to read and watch, and create assessments for students to demonstrate their learning, all before we even meet our students; far from democratic, in my perspective. How can we embed flexibility into our curricula that allow us to teach the humanities in a way that promotes student agency?


What a great forum!  Thank you Mike Rifino and HASTAC Scholars for getting us started in what we hope will be an urgent and important conversation.

And the timing is perfect.  Today, we are honored to be announcing a new $3.1million Mellon grant dedicated to training future community college humanities professors, for engaging students specifically at LaGuardia Community College in an expanded humanities education, and then for thinking back at traditional PhD training to think about all we can learn and all the ways we can rethink our graduate training for the urgent needs of students today.   Here is the link to press release for this excellent program.

Here are some of my questions in response to your comments:  

We know what the humanities can offer to community college students, to all students, in terms of empowerment, skills, a vision, a perspective, a sense of culture and purpose and agency.  How can what we learn from teaching community college students also help us to rethink graduate school training as presently constituted?  

We are losing majors in the humanities.  Is it because we are missing our mark, that we are training them for a world that is increasingly irrelevant?   Are there new ways of teaching the humanities with urgency and passion--not as vocational training but as true preparation for the rest of one's life? 

And how can teaching and learning with today's community college students be part of the transformation of traditional humanities graduate training?


Here is an Internet meme that I think it pretty relevant: 

I think the joke gets to the heart of what is important here -- the humanities are an integral part of much of what we do as humans in the world (as its very name suggests), and bringing different viewpoints and different fields of study together to work and build collaborativly is how we continue to innovate as part of society (or even save society - speaking of survival!).

In response to Cathy Davidon's question about losing humanities majors, I think one route would be similar to how Gretchen Busl develops her argument in the Guardian article linked above -- to show how the humanities are innovative, and how interdisciplinary projects that involve the sciences can really be cutting edge across all fields. 

Walter Isaacson's recent book The Innovators, speaks to tech innovation occurring at the point where science and the humanities intersect. Archival research looking at Japanese texts helped to piece together the Cascadia earthquake of 1700. Early modern paintings can help to guide studies in horitculture and the selective breeding of plants for food. Botanists also investigate art for the New York Botanical Garden's exhibit of Frida Kahlo's paintings. A very humanistic and artistic medium like photography has served to fuel not just technology for film, paper and optics, but computing technology and social media proliferation (see the NYPL's great exhibit Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography for a history of this). 

Since STEM and technology in particular are receiving a lot of attention, it can be worthwhile to advocate for the humanities in light of this, with emphasis on how pairing the humanities with the sciences can really foster growth and positive change.


One of my favorite books is Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.  The reason I love it so much is that the author, John Barry, took a single event and explained the root causes behind it through seventy-five years of U.S. history.  He began with engineering. 

This history of engineering is as much a story of human strengths and frailties (if not more) as it is a tale of scientific innovation.  Frail egos overrode scientific research, dictating Mississippi River management policies for decades with catastrophic consequences.  The divide between science and the humanities is disingenuous at best, disastrous at worst.

“Medicine is all about the humanities,” my father teaches his medical students.  He majored in philosophy and literature and says he uses his philosophy degree every day when working with patients (or struggling with the bureaucracy of our health care system.) 

To touch back on Cathy’s questions, particularly the second one, I do think we have to look back at ourselves.  We in the humanities can be purists, defending our chosen profession in lofty terms that perhaps do not help us convince undergraduates to major in our fields.  We are also accustomed to solitary work and production, which does not help translate our skill sets into a 21st century collaborative work environment.  My questions to the group are:

What role do we play in the decreasing importance placed on the humanities? 

How can we translate the skills we have and teach into language that makes sense to wider job markets? 

Does the idea of disciplines hold us back—i.e. who really cares about disciplines besides us?

What if looked at our work more through the lens of the methods we employ rather then the disciplines we fall under?


In thinking about the title of this forum, I keep returning to a talk that Kandice Chuh gave at Columbia University last year, "Improvising Enlightenment, or, Notes Towards a Defensible Humanities." My takeaway from that talk was the reminder that when we defend the humanities against the privatization of higher education, we should be careful not to defend bad modes of humanities scholarship that have historically contributed to the injustices and inequities of the present. As an example, I keep thinking about this New York Times study about how a handful of wealthy families are funding and largely determining the course of the upcoming presidential election. Given how well-educated the members of these families are, it is safe to assume that the majority are well versed in the humanities. (In a sense, these families are stand-ins for the many people who have gone on to do bad things despite extensive study in the humanities.)

In the description for the talk, Chuh argues that, "While it is impossible to ignore the adverse effects of the corporatization and intensifying privatization of the university, neither is it possible to stand simply in defense of the disciplinary formations that have been and continue to be instrumental to the production and sustenance of social hierarchies and their subtending structures and material inequalities. This is to remember that the humanities and their corollary disciplinary structures have long been central to the organization and conduct of social life constituting the hegemonic forms of Western Civilization. The history of the humanities and the disciplinary structures organizing their emergence captures the history of the civilizational discourses subtending empire and capital, and bespeaks the onto-epistemologies that have been naturalized as common sense."

Like Chuh, I'm interested in modes of inquiry, being, and knowing that crystallize around critiques of empire and capital--studying the humanities as a way of challenging that which we normally take for granted as common sense. In defending and advocating for humanistic study, I want pedagogies that unsettle and disorganize the status quo, and methodologies oriented towards the production of justice and equity. Like many of the educators I've had the honor and pleasure of working with, I try to explore these alternative humanites methodologies in my classes. This desire for better modes of studying the humanities animates my research and teaching. It makes me excited for this forum, and the new "Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance."



For a mid-size city infamous for its racial tensions, Milwaukee offers numerous examples of how the humanities offer the means to connect disparate communities with one another.  Many of these efforts come from my home school, UW-Milwaukee's efforts to serve these communities and the city as a whole. To accomplish this, the humanities at UWM have promoted the ways in which it serves its surrounding communities, reducing the perception of academia being an inaccessible ivory tower. Service learning and public outreach are still popular pedagogies at UWM which results in graduates continuing to serve the city in various ways long after commencement. 

For example, the Artery is an ongoing project in which an abandoned railway is being converted to a pedestrian and bike path lined with art works, stages, and other facilities recycled from various materials. Keith Hayes mission to "connect people" was no doubt inspired by UWM's architecture department which often demands students engage the community and embrace public spaces. 

However, the university must also serve as host to events and opportunities that invite "outside" communities in.  

As Milwaukee's status as one of the most segregated city in the United States continues, it is vital that it be the humanities be the voice that welcomes perspectives and experiences from all walks to convene and discuss how to repair the city. Sparked by the killing of Dontre Hamilton (which occurred several months after Michael Brown's murder ignited riots in Ferguson), UWM hosted events and speakers that provided a forum for Milwaukee residents to pose and discuss questions. 

But don't let my obvious devotion to UWM fool you. That these invigorating events and projects are so rare, highlights my overarching concern that many of us in the humanities are not doing enough. Every time I write out my freshman comp syllabi, I create - then delete - my service learning module. From where is my unease coming from? Buried under stacks of critical theory, I've neglected critical praxis. I believe it's not enough anymore to commit theoretical comprehension to paper - we need to commit it to people.  

An English lecturer friend shared a Kahlil Gibran quote this morning that says it all: "All knowledge is vain save when there is work, and all work is empty save when there is love." It feels to me as though the university and the humanities must operate as the means by which we can reach out and better understand the needs of the community. We cannot do that without loving our communities. By doing so, the humanities serves the means by which we foster that love in others, thereby nurturing the survival of the community, the city, the university and the humanities. Perhaps ourselves as well.  


Kris, your comments on critical praxis point to deeper, systemic issues in the higher education system. Embedding our critical praxis within our individual classrooms, our scholarship, and broader service and engagement requires a great deal of affective labor. There are many rewards in critical praxis, but these rewards are not easily quantified, quickly actualized, or reflected in traditional academic reward systems. When one receives the same "points" (for lack of a better term) for teaching a course with a service learning component as they would for teaching a course through rote lectures and memorization, it can be easier to revert to the latter, even though the former is intrisincally more rewarding. How could we reimagine the way we measure and reward academic and scholarly achievements to better align with our values?



Going off of Cathy Davidson's response to Mike Rifino: 

"We are losing majors in the humanities.  Is it because we are missing our mark, that we are training them for a world that is increasingly irrelevant?   Are there new ways of teaching the humanities with urgency and passion--not as vocational training but as true preparation for the rest of one's life? 

And how can teaching and learning with today's community college students be part of the transformation of traditional humanities graduate training?" 

This made me think about being in high school and feeling that the most relevant and urgent classes for me as a teenager were a course titled, "Values in Media" and "Relationships." These two courses helped me gain a stronger sense of my own identity, explanations for why I might be having insecurities about my appearance, and provided me with skills for building stronger relationships throuhgout my life. As a MA student, I still remember the impact those classes and teachers had on my young perspective of myself, others, and my world around me. 

From here, I further build upon the questions posed in the quote I mention from Cathy Davidson above. 

What would true preparation for the rest of our lives look like? Could this be trainings on compassion, connection, collaboration, gratitude, happiness, and how these are needed to survive based on the world's current turbulant state between differences? Would it be that the humanities exposes more historical context for the current state of existence, and the need to move beyond repeating history? 

Partnering with community college students sounds like a wonderful opportunity to understand their urgencies and what they want from the humanities to contribute to their survival within their academic careers and afterward. 



While reading some of the comments and articles it has occurred to me that the world that we are living in only cares about facts and knowledge. Knowledge is an amazing thing that allows us to have deeper meaning to things, but what if everyone thought about the hard questions in life. How about, "Why do we even believe in what science or knowledge tells us?" Our world would be very different if we were all taught humanities. Humanities lets our minds wonder to places it has never seen before. Also, science and math are great to create a sense of wisdom, but you need to have the thoughts about life and how the world works to make your wisdom grow. Spending time with a young child and asking them what questions go through their head allows us to wonder and figure out the difficult parts of life. Children have an amazing insight for humanities because they are not afraid to take the risk of asking and thinking about the difficult questions. With the help of the many humanitarians in our world we can create jobs for these people. This will allow more insight into the math and science jobs of the world and to make this world a more interesting place to live in.


Echoing Mark and others, I think the words "Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill" invite a series of interlocked questions, some of which have already been raised (or are implicit) in the posts already present in this forum:

  • What does "Teaching the Humanities" mean? 
  • What, in the context of education, constitutes a survival skill?
  • What is included in the term "humanities," and how will (or should) this inclusion change in future years?

For my own part, though, I think questions of representation should be central to our discussion here. How are we sharing our communicating what happens in the humanities (however defined) with the broader public? How are the humanities, and humanities education, represented in pop culture and public discussion forums? 

Recent years have seen an explosion of debate about the future of the humanities, with related conversations about the liberal arts appearing on national talkshows, and also with high profile debates held on how education should be mediated in the 21st century. While we think about our classrooms, about the humanities, and about survival skills (for us or for the humanities), I think it is vitally important that we think about how our ideas can be mobilized to reach new and broader audiences.

We should also question who is speaking out in favor of, or against, the humanities. Are the humanities dying, or are they more alive than ever before? Whatever our answer, we should ask: According to whom?


Ruth Wilson Gilmore concluded “Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill” on an inspiring note: “The nobility of our profession is to teach as many people as possible and make the mission of changing the world our collective mission.”

What about that as a collective mission of the humanities?


Just curious--why was the livestream conversation called "It's not a crisis, it's a war" instead of "Teaching Humanities as a Survival Skill?"


 . . . Somewhere in the distant myths of time, that was the title of the program.  We were riffing off the boring and tired idea of "the crisis in the humanities" and thought we were being funny but when we user-tested it on our test audience (i.e. friends, family, anyone who would listen) we realized it was a total miss.  So we changed the title but somehow it was still in the system.  We were all quite surprised when it surfaced because it's actual shelf-life was about 12 hours . . .   Such is history.


Funny!  I came on late to the livestream because I thought that was a video about war.  It took me 15 minutes to realize it was the talk.  Such is the legacy of history.


I came across this article and wanted to share as a fellow up to the conversation today (I'm sure many of you have already read / seen it): 



One of the reasons I was inspired to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science (LIS) is its interdisciplinary nature. I was primarily interested developing skills, knowledge, and methodological expertise that can be applied to a variety of disciplines, instead of a developing a deep subject-knowledge expertise within a specific discipline.

Since the LIS field straddles the lines between disciplines, it's been very interesting to observe how the tensions between the humanities and STEM mirror some of the tensions within my own field. Oft-times, library science is perceived as grounded in humanistic, historical practices, while information science is perceived as technology-centric and future-oriented; the challenges is how to appropriately merge these two sciences and not subjugate or marginalize one to privilege the other. As information production, exchange, and consumption increases in our globalized, technology-enhanced, market-driven world, it becomes all the more critical to problematize and situate information-related practices through socio-cultural, humanistic analyses of information and society. Likewise, the humanities, social sciences, and STEM have much to offer each other. While it’s easy to fall into one camp or the other, drawing on multiple disciplinary strengths ultimately enriches our understanding of the world and enhances our ability to support positive social change.

Some of my questions include:

  1. How can we straddle the lines between disciplines through our teaching, learning, research, and discursive practices?
  2. How can we move beyond traditional disciplinary camps - humanities, social sciences, and STEM - by incorporating the unique strengths of other disciplines into our own?
  3. How could graduate education learn from undergraduate educational models that expose students to a broad range of disciplines?

In high school, when I told teachers I wanted to be a chef or a professional ballerina they would ask me about my real degree. Confused I asked them what they meant. Their reply would be what math or science we you going into. To those teachers if you weren't going into math or science as a career you weren't going to school and getting a degree. This is what I always thought, until I took an anthropology class. My anthropology teacher told us to think of world problems that would be solved by math and science. After we thought of a lot, she proved to us that there was an element of humanities in all of those problems. How are we to see someone else’s perception if we don’t know about them. What about all the other people who have degrees in subjects that benefits us without us ever even realizing it? Music, art, and dance are ways we can see music, feel songs, and see emotions. Liberal Arts lets us put our feelings into words for others to read, discuss and enjoy. How are we supposed to get our news if no one is a journalist? Humanity’s takes the logic in math and science we know and puts it into a feeling or way of seeing the world differently. You learn how to solve problems more creatively, because you understand people as a whole. Where would we be without humanities? Not anywhere I would want to be. 


Humanities As Streaming Media, or...How Humanities Skills ARE Career Survival Skills in the 21st Century Job Market


Having just entered the job market, I've recently been thinking a great deal about what we in the humanities do as instructors in the humanities classroom.

This is what I've come to, in brief:

I consider the classroom itself a form of streaming media, one that can model effective strategies and demonstrate artful authorship in a wide variety of forms. Ninety percent of college-aged students use social media. A third of them actively maintain public blogs or websites, and more than half regularly create and share online art, videos, and fan fiction.[1] The ongoing “Stanford Study of Writing” reports our students are writing and ‘performing literacy’ more now than ever before. It is because of this growing omnipresence of digital media that we need strong interdisciplinary rhetoric, writing, and humanities courses. In class and out, as an instructor I strive to be an interactive node in the students’ ongoing professional development.

To put it quite boldly, I believe Humanities instructors can open our students to new ways of thinking about, and using, their communicative tools in more critical and professional ways. If that isn't a career survival skill, I'm not sure what is!

~Amanda Starling Gould

[1] Statistics from Rebecca Frost, Building Liberal Arts Capacities through Digital Social Learning, 2015.

**Streaming Media Classroom Concept inspired by Dr. Helen Burgess's teaching statement (which is beautiful and mind-shaking) http://www.helenburgess.com/dossier/teaching.html 


This is the title of the Community College Humanities Association 2015 National Conference, to be hosted by the Maricopa County Community College District in Phoenix, Arizona, November 5-7, 2015.

As Cathy Davidson points out, doctoral students in the humanities, as well as their faculty advisors in departments at PhD granting institutions, have much to learn from the theory and practice of teaching in the community college setting. CCHA showcases the research and service+leadership commitments of two-year college faculty as well as their expertise in the classroom; all of the pillars of the academic profession are enacted in the two-year college context, a context that is expansive, democratic, and student-centered.

A conference program reflects the values of the professional community it gathers together. The first note this one strikes, bright and early on the morning of the opening day, is "The Democracy Commitment: Humanities for the Common Good." The first of the concurrent sessions is titled "The Classroom: Helping Students Make Connections," and one of its papers, to be presented by Karyn Smith of Housatonic Community College, is called "The Ethics of Syllabi in Composition Courses." Meanwhile, in a session titled "Beyond Vocation: Aspiring to the Work of Being Whole," panelists will discuss the fundamental question of what it means to be human, challenge the corporatization of education, and discuss the humanities in a global context, all with reference to science, technology, and the economic pressures facing students in the 21st century.

And that's just the first morning. 

In my role as Assistant Program Director for Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics, a new program at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington that takes as one of its priorities the mentoring of doctoral students by faculty at two-year colleges, I have been given the opportunity to work with some very inspiring people at North, South, and Seattle Central Colleges. When I talk with them, I hear this refrain: "the humanities are vital." And this: "our work is about our students." 

This is a professional community in which the humanities disciplines are valued precisely because they are most vital to students whose life situations are most precarious. It is imperative that we build connections between the two- and four-year institutional contexts -- not transfer agreements, but professional and educational partnerships -- in and for the humanities.     



My work considers the role of social media in Black feminist rhetoric, and as a result I have been paying close attention to the current protest movements happening around the country. I think these protests provide a rich space to help answer the question about how humanities and the social sciences are relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. In her article for The Guardian Gretchen Busl says, “Humanities scholars explore ethical issues, and discover how the past informs the present and the future. Researchers delve into the discourses that construct gender, race, and class. We learn to decode the images that surround us; to understand and use the language necessary to navigate a complex and rapidly shifting world.” I think this is the central work of the humanities. We consider the why of the things happening around us. Encouraging students to make real world connections and explore, challenge, and question help keep the humanities relevant and promote student agency. As much as things change, they also seem to remain the same. History, literature, sociology, and other humanities and social science disciplines provide a space to discuss the pressing problems plaguing society. For many of our students we are talking about literal survival. I hope my students leave my classroom empowered to disrupt systems of oppression. Humanities classrooms are a space to have the difficult conversations that make us better people. Lee Skallerup Bessette has an important blog post at Hybrid Pedagogy about social justice, social media, and teaching.


It is very interesting to see conversations on how the primary function of education needs to train practical, productive skills. But what about producing meaningful connections to the world around? I find it hard to think that we would just find pleasure in the material things in the world. Being moved by a work of art, a piece of literature, a play is something that keeps us gorunded, keeps us focused on the big picture of life, not just producing work. What about meaningful work? 


For me, one of the most important things that the humanities asks us to consider is the importance of context and how what we read, see, or otherwise encounter is often the result of a chain of contingent events, and it's here that there's some potential for conveying the importance of humanistic inquiry in terms that even the most STEM-minded students might be able to appreciate. If in those fields much of the emphasis falls on ways to isolate what causes lie behind the occurrence of some process, in the humanities we deal with a slightly messier sphere where we can't control for as many variables, which is precisely why it's so interesting. As we think about humanities in terms of survival, then, it could be useful to stress their ability to reconsider and reimagine the present—in their capacity to offer alternatives, to show how things could have been otherwise, the humanities becomes an indispensable survival tool.


I have interests in STEM, social sciences, and humanities areas. I live in a math department right now, did mechanical engineering undergrad, and am learning to program. I write in disability studies, both about literature (humanities) and social issues (social sciences.) 

In doing so, I see many ways to combine STEM and humanities or liberal arts. One of the ways, and it's the one I tend towards, starts with humanities for the what and the way. What kind of world do I want to see? What would I like to add to my life? What options would I like to have? Why do I want those things? These are intensely human questions, and STEM doesn't always have my answers. Science alone isn't going to tell me what I should want.

What STEM can do, however, is help me find the correlations between conditions and results -- having an idea of the results is certainly useful when deciding what goals to have, what actions to take. What STEM can do is build new things, and show us how to do so.

Humanities and social sciences tell me that many disabled people, myself included, consider barriers to access a big problem and find our actual abilities to be less of an issue. We know how to work with the bodyminds we have. They're familiar and comfortable. Technologies (STEM again) that assume our intrinsic abilities are the things we want to change may be out of touch with our goals, while ramps and captions and other technologies that reduce barriers to access become a welcome part of our environments.

That's just one pattern out of many, though (not even the only one I've used.) How else can we put together these pieces that were only ever artificially divided anyways?



As a new 2016 HASTAC scholar, I'm excited that my first foray into the community is in response to such an important and lively discussion about the role/place of our scholarship and teaching within the larger world of education.

All of Mike Rifino's questions in the initial post for this forum were thought provoking, but I want to pick up specifically on the first, perhaps broadest, question he posed ("How are the humanities and the social sciences relevant in today’s rapidly changing world?") in light of a recent MLA publication. For those who aren't familiar, the MLA (Modern Language Association) is the big professional organization for literary scholars, and the May issue of the organization's journal this year includes a long forum on methods of reading and the common core curriculum. The questions the forum addresses echo a lot of the questions posed here. Cathy Davidson's question: "Are there new ways of teaching the humanities with urgency and passion—not as vocational training but as true preparation for the rest of one's life?" And James Hammond's very fundamental question: "What does 'Teaching the Humanities' mean?"

In their introduction to the forum, Evelyne Ender and Deidre Shauna Lynch remind MLA readers, "our field in the humanities—a place of so-called higher learning that sustains itself by virtue of books and libraries, reading and interpretation—should be the origin of [the] reminder that literate behaviors are of various kinds, that there are many things to do with texts beyond interpreting them, and that the schoolroom is only one among many spaces where relations to books develop" (544). Ender and Lynch focus just on reading in their article, but I think their statement holds true for many of the skills the phrase "teaching in the humanities" connotes.

If we keep in mind the fact that our classroom is not the only space in which students are engaging with texts or other humanist objects of analysis, and embrace the day-to-day relationships students already have with these texts and objects outside the classroom, then it seems to me that we're poised to teach humanities not as a survival skill but as a mode of thinking and engaging that's already a part of their daily lives. In other words, rather than try to overemphasize the importance of our field to students' careers and futures, it's crucial for us to recognize that we're giving them the tools and frameworks to reconsider what they already do and already know.

My thoughts here connect in some ways to Kris Purzycki's comment from last week: "Buried under stacks of critical theory, I've neglected critical praxis. I believe it's not enough anymore to commit theoretical comprehension to paper - we need to commit it to people." And also grantglass's question from just a few days ago: "But what about producing meaningful connections to the world around?" These questions seem key to rethinking the place of humanities in education. But perhaps we should shift these questions a bit from "how can we teach the humanities in a way that feels connected to the real world," to "how can we use the real world humanities experiences our students are already having to teach them in the classroom?"


Thank you so much to everyone who participated in our third University Worth Fighting For #fight4edu reading group. 

For additional information, check out the collaborative notes from our "Humanities as a Survival Skill" workshop, Lisa Tagliaferri's photo essay from the event, (& a Storify recap) and the live streamed video.

Please join us online and/or in person for our next discussion, "On and Off the Tenure Track: Career Paths and Hiring Practices."

The livestreamed workshop will occur at the CUNY Graduate Center on November 18, 1:00 - 2:00 pm EST