Edge of the American West

  • Ben Schmidt: The Exaggerated Crisis in the Humanities

    Ben Schmidt is the visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard University.Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about falling enrollments in the humanities disciplines. The news hook is a Harvard report about declining enrollments in the humanities; the moral they draw is that humanities enrollments are collapsing because the degrees don’t immediately lend themselves to post-graduate jobs. (Never mind that the Harvard report makes clear that the real competition is with the social sciences, not the 1% of humanities-curious first-years who major in computer science).But to really sell a crisis, you need some numbers. Accompanying the story was a graph credited to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showing a spectacular collapse in humanities enrollments. I made one of the first versions of this chart working on the Academy’s Humanities Indicators several years ago. And although it shows up in the press periodically to enforce a story of decay, some broader perspective on the data makes clear that the “Humanities in crisis” story is seriously overstated.