Michael Bérubé, past president of the MLA, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, gave a lecture on Thursday night here at Skidmore College. His lecture, called The Value and Values of the Humanities, addressed the state of the humanities as well as why we continue to study them. Bérubé critiqued the conservative critics who argue that the humanities as a field are dying, and argued instead that their method of measurement is flawed. As an aspiring graduate student I am particularly interested in the future of the humanities and found Bérubé’s analysis hopeful.
Bérubé argues for interdisciplinarity in the humanities and suggests that a literature-film double major should not count as interdisciplinary. He prefers a French-metallurgy double major. He certainly took a broad approach to his lecture, citing many different theorists and multiple disciplines.
His ultimate point was that humanists need to acknowledge the contingency of our ‘truths’ and to adjust accordingly. He argued against ‘textual fundamentalism’ and suggested that texts can change due to their contextualization, and every culture will read them differently. By rejecting the ‘universality’ (in the Enlightenment sense) of truth, texts, etc., the humanities can continue to thrive.
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