Are the Humanities History?Roundup
tags: history, academia, humanities, history in crisis
Michael Massing, a former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, is the author of Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind. (February 2018).
Who is going to save the humanities?
On all fronts, fields like history and English, philosophy and classical studies, art history and comparative literature are under siege. In 2015, the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities was down nearly 10 percent from just three years earlier. Almost all disciplines have been affected, but none more so than history. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of history majors nationwide fell from 34,642 in 2008 to 24,266 in 2017.
Last year, the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, facing declining enrollments, announced it was eliminating degrees in History, French, and German. The University of Southern Maine no longer offers degrees in either American and New England Studies or Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, while the University of Montana has discontinued majors and minors in its Global Humanities and Religions program. Between 2013 and 2016, US colleges cut 651 foreign-language programs.
The primary cause of these developments is the 2008 financial crash, which made students—especially the 70 percent of whom are saddled with debt—ever more preoccupied with their job prospects. With STEM jobs paying so well—the median annual earnings for engineering grads is $82,000, compared to $52,000 for humanities grads—enrollments in that area have soared. From 2013 to 2017, the number of undergraduates taking computer science courses nationwide more than doubled. A study of Harvard students from 2008 to 2016 found a dramatic shift from the humanities to STEM. The number majoring in history went from 231 to 136; in English, from 236 to 144; and in art history, from sixty-three to thirty-six, while those studying applied math went from 101 to 279; electrical engineering, from none to thirty-nine; and computer science, from eighty-six to 363.