Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman: What a New Harvard Report on the Humanities Doesn't Tell Us

tags: Chronicle of Higher Ed., American Historical Association, James Grossman, humanities, Anthony Grafton




Anthony T. Grafton is a professor of history at Princeton University and a former president of the American Historical Association. James Grossman is executive director of the association.

Have you heard about the classics major who intends to be a military surgeon? Or the employers who think entry-level interviewees ought to show up having read the company history? No, of course you haven't.

Those people are not just unmentionable, they're unthinkable—at least in the vast, buzzing worlds of the news media, the blogosphere, and the many TED Talks. No one who studies the humanities could possibly have a practical career in view, anymore than someone who has a practical career in view would ever bother studying the humanities, right? And in the corporate world, only the CEOs, not the HR people, value a liberal education. Why would a company like Enterprise Rent-A-Car care if a prospective employee took the initiative to read the company history? What could the study of the past contribute to a career in, say, medicine?

This is all common knowledge. And common knowledge is dead wrong, as it so often is. That classics major not only exists, but also took a seminar that one of us (Grafton) taught this spring, and wrote an excellent term paper on Spinoza's Hebrew grammar. Meanwhile, a half-dozen recruiters informed the other of us (Grossman) that their companies would like to see more college graduates with the skills of history majors—once we helped them realize what those skills were....




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