New book examines arguments for the humanities

April 29, 2014

A new book from Oxford professor Helen Small historicizes and evaluates 5 primary claims made in support of humanities scholarship, concluding that “the value one attributes to the humanities is to a large degree circumstantial and contextual.”  Small considers claims for the humanities in terms of their role in making meaning of culture; their instrumental use value; their contribution to human happiness; their role in fostering a democratic society; and their value for their own sake. She adopts what she describes as a “pluralist” approach that treats each of the 5 arguments as persuasive depending on the situation. However, Small eschews the notion of her book as a “defense,” suggesting that assuming a hostile audience can lead to an ineffective rhetorical emphasis. She says that her hope is to “help advocates for the humanities to think self-critically about the claims we make for our work and its wider social and political effects.” Inside Higher Ed