Scholarship in the humanities greatly enriches our lives.
Many of my colleagues are scholars in the humanities: art, communication, cultural studies, history, language, literature, media studies, music, and philosophy. Most of our discussions are about everyday work, but now and then I’m reminded of the lasting value of their interests.
The other day we interviewed graduate school applicants. I joined two literature professors. My role was to help assess the candidate’s English language skills and general readiness for graduate studies. My colleagues spoke with candidates about their plans for studies in English literature. I was humbled by their knowledge as they shared their passion for deep academic research and creative insight.
On the same day I met a graduate who’d come to the university to meet her former professor of art history. Some years ago she was a student in the English Department, and I’ve always admired her creativity and her passion for music and art. After she graduated, she came back for a second Bachelor of Arts degree in the humanities, majoring in art history. That took two years. Then she continued for two more years and got her Master of Arts this spring. Now she is in a Ph.D. program at a large university.
As long as I have known her, she has worked part-time nearly every day of the week. She has always worked early morning shifts. She is equally at home in the reading room of an academic library and behind the front desk of a famous hotel.
This young woman reminds me very much of my elder son, who is also fascinated by art history. They both work outside of academia, and they both study with great passion and curiosity. Neither of them has much time for current popular fads, and I think that makes them such interesting people. They can both communicate in detail about beautiful and creative work in the history of western civilization.
Nowadays many people confuse higher education with vocational training, and that’s too bad. The humanities are not very popular, but a good humanities education can make a person’s life rich and rewarding and valuable to everyone.