The Humanities in a New Era: Surviving or Setting the Agenda? – Københavns Universitet

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HUM 21 > The Humanities in a Ne...

The Humanities in a New Era: Surviving or Setting the Agenda?

Symposium 23 April 2008, lecture hall 23.0.50

Keynote speakers

Jan Parker, Michael Huber, Finn Collin og Geoffrey Harpham


10.00 - Kirsten Refsing

10.05 - Dr. Jan Parker (Open University, Milton Keynes)
The Humanities into the 21st century: Challenges and Contributions (abstract)

10.45 - Professor Michael Huber (IWT, Bielefeld)
Competition and Excellence. Remarks on the current Higher Education reforms in Europe (abstract)

11.25 Panel discussion with Jan Parker, Michael Huber, Dorthe Jørgen

12.30 Lunch

13.30 Professor Finn Collin (Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen)
Humanities as the Study of Man (abstract)

14.10 Professor Geoffrey Harpham (National Humanities Center, North Carolina)
The Humanities in America (abstract ) (full version)

14.50 Panel discussion 

15.45 Conslusion 


Abstract Jan Parker

Universities have tended to account for the outcomes of learning the Humanities in terms of discipline-specific skills, competences and, sometimes, sensibilities. Recent debate in the European Science Foundation has looked to particular disciplinary skills and knowledge base, suggesting their contribution to interdisciplinary research: history, linguistics and anthropology are often cited.

A recent international forum on `What have the Humanities to Offer 21st-Century Europe? turned rather to suggesting that the Humanities' methods should be given a new prominence: hermeneutic and creative approaches to multifaceted and multivocal texts; ways of dealing with uncertainty, with supercomplexity, with learning and living in a fast-changing and potentially fearful world; intercultural competences and approaching and accounting for that which is alien; embodied pedagogies, holistic and pluralistic research methodologies.....

The journal that sponsored and published the forum, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education:an international journal of theory, research and practice (in vol. 6 (2) and 7 (1) ) was founded on the premise that the Humanities are shaped and develop as interlocking discipline communities, their processes refined and revalued in their teaching as well as their research practices. From the teaching of our disciplines, it follows, should come a revitalised and revitalising agenda. Given Denmark's important role in shaping the European Union's new thinking about the Humanities' contribution (e.g. via the new EU METRIS group (Monitoring Emerging Trends in Humanities and Social Sciences) I hope this paper will provide a basis for us to develop ideas together.

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Abstract Michael Huber

Since the 1980s, Higher Education systems in Europe have transformed the basic philosophy of university-governance and aim at more accountability, efficiency (nor effectiveness!) and excellence. This presentation outlines four dimensions of these paradigmatic changes, discussing the inherent possibilities and challenges.

The first dimension concerns academic excellence and how Higher Education systems account for their efforts to ensure more excellence. Higher Education systems developed impressive procedures and programmes to identify and foster excellence, however, they confine excellence to a measurable and predictable entity.

Second, the central mechanism for academic progress is no longer critical debate, but competition, both at the level of individuals, disciplines and Higher education systems. Unwanted effects of competition are hardly considered.

Third, as far as management is concerned, the value-based agreements of the Humboldt university no longer allows to govern universities. It is replaced with the economisation of governance. Fourth, the expected leaner administration efficiency triggers bureaucratisation and a fundamental change of the organisation. We can observe new bureaucratic layers, new control systems and strong incentives for behavioural change of students, teachers and researchers.  The presentation reviews these structural changes that challenge the humanities more than other faculties and attempts to identify the new chances and problems that needs to be addressed by governance. toppen

Abstract Geoffrey Harpham

The object of humanistic research is to identify, articulate, and preserve the concept of the human.  This is at once the most traditional and durable object of humanistic research, and a basis for methodology.  It is easy to assume that, given this emphasis on the human, the humanities endorse universal values, articulated in an atemporal frame. 

But there can be, and are, quite significant differences in the way that the humanities are construed in different national cultures.  I will try to identify some of the attributes of the humanities in the United States, and will invite respondents to suggest European or Danish contrasts. 

I will focus in particular on the distinctively “American” conception of the humanities as an ingredient in the psychic or moral health of the culture. I will suggest that the utopian dimension of the humanities, so often emphasized in the public rhetoric that surrounds them in the United States, can in part be accounted for by the funding source for humanistic research in the United States, which is private philanthropy rather than government subsidy. toppen

Abstract Finn Collin

The title of this talk appears tautologous: What else could the Humanities be but the study of Man? But in truth, for a long period, the Humanities have typically defined themselves otherwise than as the study of Man, at least if such study is aimed at revealing the nature of man. Man has been viewed as just a "social construction", a mere product of societal forces or historical contingency. Several philosophical and cultural developments have conspired to generate this conclusion, which, in addition, resonates well with dominant political ideologies. But there are signs that talk about a human nature is not longer banned, and that the study of it will again loom large in the Humanities of the 21st century.

It is high time to fill this humanistic lacuna, since, while humanistic studies have been eagerly denying the existence of a human nature, other societal agents have been busy acquiring the tools to change that nature, utilizing our newly won knowledge of the human genome. An increased knowledge about man is needed to monitor, assess and criticize the efforts to manipulate human nature that we shall surely witness in the future. Knowledge about man will also inspire new political agendas in the future, just as past insights into the nature of man inspired such important political programmes as socialism and liberalism. To gain recognition for such a societal role, however, the humanities must break out of the purely economic-instrumental role towards which they are currently being pushed. Til toppen