Archive for April 6th, 2011

W(h)ither the humanities?

6 April 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

The outlook – to borrow a typically understated phrase from our friends in Met Éireann – is changeable. Academic discussion in the last two months in Ireland has been dominated by comment (informed and less-so) about changes to university structures and the future of the humanities in a period of deep recession. In the UK, the frightening prospect of diverting state funding through the Arts and Humanities Research Council to the study of the ‘big society’ has prompted a strong defence of academic freedom. At the same time, a parallel debate has been raging at secondary school level, where commentators like Niall Ferguson bemoan the ‘ruination’ of history, hemmed in by national boundaries while the world – and academic profession – becomes transnational. At each turn, the image of the good ship humanities listing violently in an economic storm has become increasingly difficult to ignore.

A little over two weeks ago, Ireland’s own Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the source of funding for so much that is positive about research in Ireland over the last eleven years, hosted Martha Nussbaum, the University of Chicago-based philosopher and author of Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, in the second in its lecture series on ‘The Public Intellectual’. At the heart of her address was a plea for recognition of the importance of the humanities to democracy: Read More