Saturday, September 5, 2009

Studying Literature: Dead or Alive?

julius caesar mouse

I read an article recently by an English professor at Berkeley that states that the humanities (English, art history, history, etc.) are dying.  Why?  Well, obviosly money plays a part.  The humanities are being fostered in private schools, which are far more expensive than public schools.  Ergo, the humanities are losing teaching jobs in many public universities; and meanwhile, people who study the humanities have to attend the more expensive schools.  But unlike doctors or lawyers, English majors don't tend to make enough money to pay off their student loans once they graduate.  It's a vicious cycle, one that doesn't exactly support a career in the humanities.

Chace, the author the article, also suggests that student enrollment in humanities classes has dropped because of a lack of coherence in the disciplines and "near exhaustion as a scholarly pursuit."  He speaks of English Literature studies while my speciality is in art history; but I don't think the disciplines have run to exhaustion, although perhaps they're being taught as if they have.  If English has run itself into exhaustion, perhaps because it's because it's retreading traditional literature instead of branching out to new books?

I have to admit that I never took an English class during the entire course of my college career.  I took AP English in high school that counted for the general requirement English courses.  That probably seems strange considering my obsession with enjoyment of books, but it was precisely because of that I didn't want to take English courses.  As I've said before, reading is an entirely personal experience, and I wanted to enjoy it, not analyze it and then write essays about it.

*Pause for momentary realization of the irony of this statement*

Anyway, I always thought art history was more analytical because what you see is what you get.  But the events in books take place in a person's mind, so... really I have no idea where I'm going with this post at this point.  Other than I am, very strangely, one of those people who have avoided English courses.  And if I don't want to take English classes, then you know something's wrong with the system.  Did you notice where Chace mentions one strategy English professors want to employ is to rekindle time and love for reading?  Yeah, unless you've got a time machine, the former isn't going to happen; and you can't force people to enjoy reading, so the latter's not going to work, either.

Do you have any experience with humanities studies?  Do you think the study of art, history, and literature is as doomed as Chace predicts?

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