The Humanities are Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself

Here’s an idea: let’s put a one year moratorium on any “death of the humanities” articles, either by outsiders or insiders. I want every academic or employee of a university out there to agree not to participate in this seemingly weekly emerging body of texts. I want senior academics to stop telling people that they would never do what they did if they had to do it now. I want newspapers to stop printing them as a way of fueling a flame with questionable statistics and highly generalized hypotheses based on personal experience. And I want the headlines of these articles to be less provocative and more honest; let’s stay away from “The Decline and Fall of the English Major.” After a year, instead of coming to quick judgments, we’ll talk about what we’ve learned.


No? Oh whatever, just read this:


The price of the New York Times Sunday edition to anyone who can tell me what this means: “Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale. ” I’ve missed the point of this article, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean it deserved to be written and published.

In a misguided attempt to be helpful, the Atlantic has posted this article:


And how have they come to this conclusion?

That’s right, a wavy-line chart! See, the humanities were really bad in 1985. I imagine this is largely due to Perestroika,  the misplaced excitement surrounding Magic Johnson’s stellar play in the 1985 NBA Finals, and also the fact that New Historicism bummed a lot of people out for a few years. I mean, Stephen Greenblatt couldn’t even talk to that guy on the airplane. (“What was wrong with old historicism?” said a despondent 1985 Yale undergrad in between sips of New Coke. before changing his major to International Business.  And that kid grew up to be Julian Assange.) As the chart indicates, the rise of the humanities is directly linked with the American obsession with Australian culture upon the release of Crocodile Dundee.  And it flatlined around 1996, because (as scholars have noted) that’s when I graduated high school. I continue to contend that this is unrelated.

Y’all, we’ve got to stop fighting quantitative research with other quantitative research. Even the salvos intended to defend the humanities are trafficking in statistics and grim stories about students who probably weren’t going to be English majors anyway. We have to change the tenor of this discussion.


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