“The Humanities and the Public Good”

Well, it’s been an embarrassingly long time since our last post (how has one month of 2014 already flown by?!) but this New Year sure is off to a great start! Tying in perfectly with Common Humanity’s themes, the Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) has just begun an awesome new seminar series called “The Humanities and the Public Good” (http://torch.ox.ac.uk/taxonomy/term/38). Bringing together scholars and researchers from a variety of disciplines, the program’s lectures and round-table discussions shine a spotlight on the Humanities, investigate their role in the modern world, and ask that multifaceted question, “Why study the Humanities?”

If the kick-off event is any indication, this is a seminar series you won’t want to miss. The first lecture opened to a full-house at the University of Oxford last week, where leading figures from a variety of fields came together for an interactive discussion entitled, “In Everyone’s Interests: What it Means to Invest in the Humanities.” While it is impossible to summarize 90 minutes of brilliant presentations in one short blog post, TORCH has been kind enough to post the recording of the event online, so you can watch the entire thing for yourself here: http://torch.ox.ac.uk/publicgoodfull Or for the 2-minute highlights version, check out: http://torch.ox.ac.uk/publicgoodhighlights

For me, Charlotte Higgins’ emphasis on the idea that the Humanities are “open to the other” struck a particular chord. When I think about what my own Humanities-based education has taught me thus far, sure I can list off some important dates, run through the odd historical timeline, and maybe conjugate a few Latin verbs, but what my education has really given me is an appreciation of the human experience in all its forms. It has challenged me to step away from the familiar and consider the variety of ways in which people make sense of the world we all live in. This can only truly be done through an open, non-judgemental, and unbiased lens, and while it is perhaps impossible to completely rid ourselves of bias, the Humanities confront us with this worthy challenge. In a diverse and ever-changing world, we need challenges such as these more than ever. In other words, we need to invest in the Humanities.

So set aside some time to watch the discussion for yourself, and see if you can resist the urge to stand up and cheer when Dame Hermione Lee delivers her most eloquent of conclusions:

“The value of the humanities is to make sense of the past, and thereby to help in understanding the changing, fragmenting world which we live in. Earl Lewis quoted the sentence, ‘How do we understand and manage change if we have no notion of the past?’ The humanities are about memory, communication, the imagination, storytelling, identity. Why should we invest in the humanities? Because we’re human.”



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