On the day when the Browne Report proposes cutting all government funding for teaching in the Arts and Humanities in the name of making the British university sector “more competitive”, there has of course been much online discussion (notably on Twitter) of how to (and indeed whether we should have to) justify the arts and humanities in a shrinking academic economy. Several important opinion pieces have been cited:
- ‘That Full Complement of Riches’ (2004)
- Will the Humanities Save us? (2008)
- The value of higher education in the arts and humanities (2009)
For my part, the answer is very simply that the reason society should value a strong Arts and Humanities culture is not because of any measurable “value” in economic terms (although cases can and are being made for that), but because a civilized society benefits from having a large number of educated citizens with as varied backgrounds as possible who are able to (and in the habit of) critically examine an arbitrary statement or text.
I’m willing to concede that society gets very little (if any) measurable gain from my study of the role of marginalized women in Ancient Greek narratives of magic. But the fact that I spent so much time studying anything that closely makes me better able to critique the rhetoric of a politician, or to analyze the social impact of a controversial television programme (and I’m no scholar of political science or media studies, both of whom have important roles to play there). In short, my liberal arts education has made me a better citizen, and the students I have been involved in the teaching of likewise.
Others can and have made better cases than this, and I hope will continue to do so, in the comments here and elsewhere. This may not be an especially convincing argument for politicians, but it is, in my opinion, the truth.