The Transforming Humanities

Event Recap of The ‘Crisis’ Humanities, and the Digital Humanities? New Directions in the Humanities, 11/14/17

A panel of humanities scholars came together on November 14 to discuss the ‘crisis’ of the humanities and the digital humanities, casting an eye to the future of the humanities disciplines. Gigi Dopico (Dean of the Humanities in Arts and Science, NYU) began by presenting statistics which demonstrated a decline in the number of bachelors, masters, and secondary degrees nationally conferred in the humanities since 2012. Dopico asserted that despite these somewhat alarming numbers, “the territory of the humanities is related at its very core to crisis,” arguing that the humanities has always dealt with crises and will continue to do so.

Julie Mostov, (Dean of Liberal Studies, NYU) argued that the humanities are not in crisis. She refuted the claims that the humanities are vanishing due to declining students and funding and that the humanities are becoming irrelevant due to the rise of technology and the changing job market. Mostov contended that questions posed by the humanities have been taken up by other disciplines, and these questions are more and more relevant in our changing world. She noted that we need to keep “the questions of the humanities and our lives together part of our education” to contend with the effects of developing technology such as artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, advanced robotics, and the sustainability of human life on earth. Mostov does not fear the changing job market, but rather says that humanities can embrace technologies: “We can revive humanities and continue its relevance today.”

Then digital humanities were discussed by Marion Thain (Director of Digital Humanities, NYU), David Hoover (Professor of English, NYU) and David Wrisley (Associate Professor of Digital Humanities, NYU Abu Dhabi). Digital humanities extends the power of the humanities through digital methodology and by studying the digital sphere and is at its core informed by the theories and questions of the traditional humanities fields. Thain argued DH needs “more imagination, more risk, and areas of interdisciplinarity to give room for this.” Hoover proclaimed that DH is not a new discipline, but was born in 1982 and has roots far before that time period. Hoover uses computer algorithms for “computationally-assisted close reading, finding ways to make a close reading closer.” Wrisley, who joined the discussion virtually, said that digital humanities scholars “both build and break [the digital] tools; they use and critique them.”

At the end of the panelists’ remarks, the audience raised questions, focusing on the ability and need of the humanities to be interdisciplinary and the importance of digital humanities scholarship in an increasingly digital world. One thing can be said for sure: the humanities are not dying, they are transforming.