“The Humanities and Common Sense”

Almost all of what is argued here could also be applied to the social sciences.

The problem with this argument is that such really original scholarship is rare and getting ever more rare. While there are exceptions, little original research is left to do in most fields of the humanities. Few important books are published each year. The vast majority are as derivative as they are unnecessary. We would all do well to read and think about the few important books (obviously there will be some disagreement and divergent schools) than to spend our time trying to establish our expertise by commenting on some small part of those books. . . .

As a result–and it is hard to hear for many in the scholarly community–we simply don’t need 200 medieval scholars in the United States or 300 Rawlsians or 400 Biblical scholars. It is important that Chaucer and Nietzsche are taught to university students, but the idea that every college and university needs a Chaucer and a Nietzsche scholar to teach Chaucer and Nietzsche is simply wrong. We should, of course, continue to support scholars, those whose work is to some extent scholarly innovative. But more needed are well-read and thoughtful teachers who can teach widely and write for a general audience.

Craig Newmark

Associate Professor of Economics, North Carolina State Univ.

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