Are the Humanities Dead?


It is with utter disappointment that I look around my Spanish class, lamenting at the drop in student enrollment. Employing just a bit of the knowledge I learned in my previous research course, I am tempted to hypothesise, that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of students in Humanities and tuition fees.Or in simpler terms, when the fees increase, the number of students decreases. Surely, this was the dreaded result of the Barbadian government’s decision to make their citizens pay tuition fees, yet it was a bit harder to swallow when I actually saw it manifested. Unfortunately, the Humanities Faculty took the hardest hit, but some would not be too disappointed because seriously, who actually needs the humanities?

The argument is that we live in an economy-driven and technology-centred world neither of which requires the humanities to thrive. For many, historians and philosophers are frozen in time.They spend most of their time theorising instead of doing, whilst the world evolves faster every second. Economists, entrepreneurs and IT specialists are the ones who are at the forefront of development, whilst the humanists stay behind in schools teaching lexicon and semantics to the masses. So essentially,in terms of picking a career, entering the fields of Literature, Language and History to name a few is the equivalent of putting a noose around your neck and walking on a tight rope. Or so they suggest anyway.

This is the argument that always haunted me whenever I moved to a new stage in my academic life. At some point I even considered studying Travel and Tourism because I was advised that this would be a much safer and quicker option than the Arts. Fortunately for me, I chose what I love and not what I was told to choose because in my opinion, the humanities are not dead. They are very much alive and in contact with the rest of the world. It is the world that has turned its back on us.

First of all, I would think that anyone with any inkling of intelligence knows that all knowledge is transferable. So this belief that studying a subject such as Literature leaves you in a parallel universe of pen-on-paper ideas and impractical skills is absolutely flawed. Speaking from personal experience, it is my training in thinking critically and analytically, that I have gained through studying the Arts,which helps me to thrive in every aspect of my professional life. I have been trained to see beyond ‘what should be’ and into ‘what is,’ to form multi-dimensional opinions. This is not to say that professionals in other fields cannot achieve the same. However, when studying a field like History for example, your concern is not solely politics, economics or medicine, but also sociology and technology for example. Basically, there is no limit to the themes that comprises human history, so you are forced to be well versed on as many subjects as possible.

Yet another infamous misconception is that humanities is very limited in career choices. A history student does not have to be a historian, neither does a literature or Spanish student have to be a teacher, but unfortunately these are the only professions that come to mind in the Caribbean in respect to the Arts. The truth is we still cling to traditional careers but complain that our employment rates are low. If we do not create opportunities for our people outside the banks, schools and lawyers’offices, unemployment will always be an issue in our societies

Now for a bit of irony. Doesn’t it seem a bit contradictory that we classify the Arts as dead, but we buy literature from other countries, go to cinemas and pay to watch foreign movies, line our walls with art from ‘overseas’? Or pay hundreds of dollars to import interpreters to our nations? Certainly, these areas constitute products and skills based in the Arts that are very much ‘in demand’. Maybe if we invested a bit more into them in our region, we would not need to constantly purchase them from outside the region. Then my Spanish class would be a bit more populated. I mean think about it, we surely cannot be remitting our monies to other countries just to purchase something that is…dead?






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