“As Americans fight over their history, the historical profession itself may be in terminal decline…If Americans don’t seriously invest in history and other humanities disciplines, we encourage ahistoric [sic] ignorance… This is especially true in a moment like our own in which Americans use history to fight over which vision of the country will dominate politics …
“Without professional historians, history education will be left more and more in the hands of social media influencers, partisan hacks and others unconcerned with achieving a complex, empirically informed understanding of the past … Americans must do everything in their power to avert the end of history. If we don’t, exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies will dominate our historical imagination and make it impossible to understand, and learn from, the past. “
Even more alarming, Professor Bessner contends that history is but one element in the current cynical devaluing of studies in the humanities and the liberal arts.
“The humanities, including history, are often considered more an object of ridicule than a legitimate lane of study. Look no further than statements from politicians…”
A vigorous rebuttal to the liberal arts doubters seems warranted:
On the QSTopuniversities website Hasna Haidar has provided and informative and incisive presentation of “all you need to know about what studying liberal arts entails and what students can gain from a liberal arts degree” https://bit.ly/3XA7FWR . Highlights (significantly edited/condensed):
.What is a liberal arts education today? The liberal arts spectrum is generally accepted as covering the following fields: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, formal sciences (mathematics, logic, statistics, etc.)
. What are the benefits of a liberal arts education? Preparation for work in a variety of sectors. Introduction to career choices. Steppingstone to other careers. Appealing to employers. Foundation for graduate study. Skills to become a valuable community member.
. What jobs can you get with a liberal studies degree? Academia. art/photography, education interpreter. marketing. political science. – and many other career paths (including business, finance, law enforcement, research analysis, social services).
. Skills gained from a liberal arts degree. A wide range of sought-after skills – analytical, evaluative, critical and creative thinking skills. (List of sixteen ranging from oral and written and abilities and learning and synthesizing new ideas to ethical decision-making and mastering a foreign language and cross-cultural knowledge.
Today, many colleges and universities are delivering liberal arts programs that, in addition to being intellectually stimulating, are career/avocation enhancing, socially topical, technologically augmented and creatively nimble.
In one of many examples (see The Annapolis Group of Liberal Arts Colleges https://www.annapolisgroup.org/ ), Manhattan College (my alma mater), is establishing a B.A. in criminology major. This 33-credit concentration, emphasizing social injustice and inequality that impact low-impact communities, will be administered by the college’s School of Liberal Arts Sociology Department which is to be renamed the Sociology and Criminology Department. Madeleine Novich, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator of the planned program, explains, “We’re offering cutting-edge criminology and students will be getting a curriculum that is very contemporary.”
Bottom line to those who question the value of a liberal arts degree, asking “what is the goal of a classical liberal arts education in the modern world?” – here is a succinct summation reply by Scott Wilson on the LiberalArtsEDU.org website https://bit.ly/3CSiyvg
“The goal of a classical liberal arts education is to create well-rounded, informed, independent thinkers who are capable of continuing their learning in a wide variety of fields. The general knowledge and critical-thinking skills that are picked up in classical liberal arts training are a proven platform for developing communications and problem-solving skills useful in many other fields.”