The decline of the humanities, the rise of the obscurities

From Heather, The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity:

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.

Such defenestrations have happened elsewhere, and long before 2011. But the UCLA coup was particularly significant because the school’s English department was one of the last champions of the historically informed study of great literature, uncorrupted by an ideological overlay. Precisely for that reason, it was the most popular English major in the country, enrolling a whopping 1,400 undergraduates.

In this day and age we sometimes reflect upon the insanity of the intrigues of the late dynastic courts in Imperial China, where manipulative functionaries migh chop off the knees of their own armies while barbarians massed at the walls. So insulated within the walls of their world, they were obvlious to the actions which were hastening their own demise. Modern humanities in the United States is somewhat like this. The vast majority of students at universities might be willing to endure a few courses in diversity and such to fulfill requirements, but far few will enter into a course of study to explore the shallow waters of ostcolonial theory after the depths of the classics are closed off to them. And without students the field slowly dessicates and dies.

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3 Responses to The decline of the humanities, the rise of the obscurities

  1. CJColucci says:

    Last I looked, it would have been next to impossible to avoid a solid exposure to Shakespeare and Chaucer (maybe you could get around Milton) as an English major even if these courses had not been required. And I’d be surprised if S & C (and probably even M) do not show up in some of the new requirements.

  2. GTChristie says:

    I cringed when I saw the options listed above. The coup is only complete if the university (not the major) no longer offers what we might quaintly call the old trivium.

  3. Levi says:

    As a small town kid who went to an elite public school, I would’ve avoided the major due to confusion over what those even meant.

    It seems like a fairly elitist perspective to demand that potential majors have a prior understanding of what those topics are. This isn’t comparable to philosophy (my major) where more obscure topics (if in name only) like epistemology and metaphysics are well-established cornerstones to the discipline.

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