Special Issue "The Relevance of The Humanities in the Twenty-First Century: Past and Present"

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 August 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Albrecht Classen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of German Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Interests: medieval and early modern cultural history and humanities; premodern gender studies; history of mentality; comparative literature
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We all face the same challenges, with the Humanities being under attack because the STEM fields gain increasingly all the attention and resources, especially in the academy. Curiously, this is not necessarily driven by our colleagues in the sciences, but by administrators who are fixated on grants, patents, technological discoveries, and public reputation. But STEM and STEAM, to formulate it in a conciliatory fashion, are not binary oppositions; instead, as our journal Humanities has already proven countless times, they are simply two sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, we have not paid enough attention to the critical approaches defining and defending the Humanities and the Arts. We need to do more to illuminate why the study of culture, history, and the arts is of central importance without which STEM also become meaningless and irrelevant. Our existence here on earth is defined by our past and present; and we cannot form a constructive society without ethics and morality, without ideals and values. Those aspects are deeply grounded in our history, which extends directly into our modern lives. This volume intends to compile strategically oriented papers addressing, once again, and also in a refreshing and convincing manner, the central importance of the Humanities.

We live in a world today where digitization and robotization are making huge strides, probably helping us to improve all of our lives. But we are not simply algorithmic functions of super-computers, we are human beings with all our shortcomings and failures, and with all our ideals, endurance, principles, and social norms. Those have been developed throughout time under an infinite number of cultural circumstances. Consequently, we need to understand and explain in strong terms why the Humanities matter in Afghanistan, in South Africa, in Argentina or in Germany today How do we draw from literary texts, cinematic art works, visual objects, and philosophical and religious treatises in order to come to terms with the fundamental issues concerning us all as human beings? How do we address the public to convince them about the centrality of ethics, morality, idealism, communication, aesthetics, and related aspects? In short, this volume intends to bring together arguments of a universal nature that can be utilized in any kind of academic and political setting.

  1. Focus: Explanation and defense of the humanities from a historical and modern perspective
  2. Scope: From antiquity to the modern world; addressing the humanities on a global level
  3. Purpose of the Special Issue: Provide very specific talking points for all scholars in the Humanities when they are engaged with the public, with politicians, and especially with university administrators

Prof. Dr. Albrecht Classen
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Humanities vs. STEM
  • ethics
  • morality
  • philosophy
  • literature
  • visual arts
  • justification of the Humanities, past and present

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Reflections on Key Issues in Human Life: Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, Dante’s Divina Commedia, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Michael Ende’s Momo, and Fatih Akın’s Soul Kitchen—Manifesto in Support of the Humanities—What Truly Matters in the End?
Humanities 2020, 9(4), 121; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9040121 - 16 Oct 2020
Viewed by 505
Abstract
There are available by now many arguments concerning the intrinsic and endemic value of the humanities, and both from a medievalist and a modernist perspective. Similarly, there continue to be many critics who would not mind the elimination of the humanities and argue [...] Read more.
There are available by now many arguments concerning the intrinsic and endemic value of the humanities, and both from a medievalist and a modernist perspective. Similarly, there continue to be many critics who would not mind the elimination of the humanities and argue vociferously for this goal. Every critical investigation of how to defend our field thus proves to be highly valuable, but we in the humanities must also develop specific points concerning the importance of our research that will convince both students, parents, administrators, and politicians in concrete, pragmatic terms regarding the supreme relevance of college education. Fortunately, the current COVID-19 crisis has also profiled in a dramatic fashion what proves to be of fundamental importance for human life, both past and present, reminding us of the critical importance of the humanities. An existence without virtues, a completely narcissistic or egoistical concept of life, or a society entirely predicated on materialistic interests would cut us off from our own future. This article discusses several literary works and also a modern movie in which the constant quest for meaning and relevance in our lives comes to the fore and gives us direction and understanding. Full article
Editorial
The Amazon Rainforest of Pre-Modern Literature: Ethics, Values, and Ideals from the Past for Our Future. With a Focus on Aristotle and Heinrich Kaufringer
Humanities 2020, 9(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010004 - 24 Dec 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1221
Abstract
The tensions between the STEM fields and the Humanities are artificial and might be the result of nothing but political and financial competition. In essence, all scholars explore their topics in a critical fashion, relying on the principles of verification and falsification. Most [...] Read more.
The tensions between the STEM fields and the Humanities are artificial and might be the result of nothing but political and financial competition. In essence, all scholars explore their topics in a critical fashion, relying on the principles of verification and falsification. Most important proves to be the notion of the laboratory, the storehouse of experiences, ideas, imagination, experiments. For that reason, here the metaphor of the Amazon rainforest is used to illustrate where the common denominators for scientists and scholars rest. Without that vast field of experiences from the past the future cannot be built. The focus here is based on the human condition and its reliance on ethical ideals as already developed by Aristotle. In fact, neither science nor humanities-based research are possible without ethics. Moreover, as illustrated by the case of one of the stories by Heinrich Kaufringer (ca. 1400), human conditions have always been precarious, contingent, puzzling, and fragile, especially if ethics do not inform the individual’s actions. Pre-modern literature is here identified as an ‘Amazon rainforest’ that only waits to be explored for future needs. Full article

Research

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Article
Fighting Food Poverty through Film: Or Why Global Challenge Research Needs the Arts and Humanities
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 114; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030114 - 17 Sep 2020
Viewed by 743
Abstract
Food poverty is just one example of a global challenge where the Arts and Humanities perspective risks being judged at worst to have no relevance at all, and at best to be included as no more than an accessible tool to facilitate public [...] Read more.
Food poverty is just one example of a global challenge where the Arts and Humanities perspective risks being judged at worst to have no relevance at all, and at best to be included as no more than an accessible tool to facilitate public engagement and awareness-raising. How therefore can Arts and Humanities scholars articulate the value of their work in such a way that researchers in other fields are persuaded not only that it brings something new to their understanding of the issues, but that to tackle such questions without this input would leave a significant methodological gap in developing the pathway to research impact? The present discussion takes as its central case study an analysis of the strategies at play to tackle the question of food poverty in French filmmaker Agnès Varda’s 2000 film, Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse [The Gleaners and I]. It then uses this analysis as a springboard to explore how, as Arts and Humanities scholars, we might begin to translate better our methodologies and the unique power of our objects of study to disciplines which tend to dominate research on food security, poverty and sustainability or indeed other challenge-based research. To this end, the present discussion seeks to decipher the power of this methodology in terms of the unique capacity for ‘affect’ of the work of art, and ultimately argues for the essential contribution of Arts and Humanities researchers as ‘brokers’ for movement building and social change. Full article
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Article
Let’s Celebrate the Humane in the Humanities
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 109; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030109 - 10 Sep 2020
Viewed by 710
Abstract
The economic collapse in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the problems caused by a generation of funding cuts to institutions of higher education and, with these cuts, the increasing costs for students and their families. The current problems raise anew [...] Read more.
The economic collapse in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the problems caused by a generation of funding cuts to institutions of higher education and, with these cuts, the increasing costs for students and their families. The current problems raise anew the questions of what public good is created both by programs in the Humanities and by all forms of higher education. They are not new questions, but the responses often bring out the importance of humane education to a free society. Courses in the Humanities develop more than the skills in communication and critical thinking that employers say they value. Such courses contribute to the personal development, character formation, and emotional intelligence that create a healthy and productive society. The benefits of such education are considerable, but cannot be measured in a strictly business model of higher education such as is often used by institutions balancing budgets, as well as by the overseers to which they report, including regents, politicians, and community affiliates. Full article
Article
Liberal Arts for Social Change
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 98; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030098 - 31 Aug 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1042
Abstract
The author makes a strategic argument for the liberal arts grounded in realpolitik (that is, the “realistic” manipulation of the levers of power). In a time of neoliberal university governance, it is useful for fields of study to base appeals for their continued [...] Read more.
The author makes a strategic argument for the liberal arts grounded in realpolitik (that is, the “realistic” manipulation of the levers of power). In a time of neoliberal university governance, it is useful for fields of study to base appeals for their continued existence on their utility to their institutions. The growth of equity and diversity initiatives in the academy, particularly in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, gives us a means of making this argument, as the liberal arts have utility in questioning the structures of white supremacy and received history and values. By exploiting the cognitive dissonance between the demands of neoliberal governance and the need for diversity and equity, we can make a persuasive case for reinvestment in the liberal arts. Further, this reinvestment ought to be democratized and carried out through all levels of higher education, including, and especially, non-selective, vocationally oriented institutions. Full article
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Article
Half-Remembering and Half-Forgetting? On Turning the Past of Old Norse Studies into a Future of Old Norse Studies
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030097 - 28 Aug 2020
Viewed by 1036
Abstract
Many Humanities scholars seem to have become increasingly pessimistic due to a lack of success in their efforts to be recognized as a serious player next to their science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) colleagues. This appears to be the result of a [...] Read more.
Many Humanities scholars seem to have become increasingly pessimistic due to a lack of success in their efforts to be recognized as a serious player next to their science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) colleagues. This appears to be the result of a profound uncertainty in the self-perception of individual disciplines within the Humanities regarding their role both in academia and society. This ambiguity, not least, has its roots in their own history, which often appears as an interwoven texture of conflicting opinions. Taking a stance on the current and future role of the Humanities in general, and individual disciplines in particular thus asks for increased engagement with their own past, i.e., histories of scholarship, which are contingent on societal and political contexts. This article’s focus is on a case study from the field of Old Norse Studies. In the face of the rise of populism and nationalism in our days, Old Norse Studies, with their focus on a ‘Germanic’ past, have a special obligation to address societal challenges. The article argues for the public engagement with the histories of individual disciplines to strengthen scholarly credibility in the face of public opinion and to overcome trenches which hamper attempts at uniting Humanities experts and regaining distinct social relevance. Full article
Article
The Soul of the Phonograph: Media-Technologies, Auditory Experience, and Literary Modernism in the Age of COVID-19
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 82; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030082 - 16 Aug 2020
Viewed by 883
Abstract
The unpredictable duration of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates renewed reflection on our collective reliance on video platforms such as Zoom and YouTube for telecommunication and music listening purposes, which have virtually filled the gap left by widely cancelled live performances. The affectively close [...] Read more.
The unpredictable duration of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates renewed reflection on our collective reliance on video platforms such as Zoom and YouTube for telecommunication and music listening purposes, which have virtually filled the gap left by widely cancelled live performances. The affectively close relationship we forge with these services today echoes a recurrent theme in literary modernism: the tendency to endow early mechanical sound reproduction machines such as the phonograph and the record player with quasi-human subjectivity, emotions, and agency. This historical topos, in turn, anticipates posthumanism’s fascination with the seamless interface between machine-intelligence and its human users. Thinking about these cultural continuities may help the Humanities articulate the crucial role of media technologies and literary discourses under exceptional circumstances. Full article
Article
The Value of the English Major Today
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 77; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030077 - 06 Aug 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 766
Abstract
This essay explores the value of the undergraduate English major today in terms of the knowledge and skills it develops, graduate school and employment opportunities it provides, and self-actualization and social improvement it fosters. From the perspective of an English department chair, this [...] Read more.
This essay explores the value of the undergraduate English major today in terms of the knowledge and skills it develops, graduate school and employment opportunities it provides, and self-actualization and social improvement it fosters. From the perspective of an English department chair, this essay stresses both the tangible and intangible benefits of the study of literature and writing, and it does so as a defense against those that seek to cut funding or devolve English departments. With reference to data from both a small, private, liberal arts college in southern California and national sources to give context, the essay shows how the English major is not only perennially valuable, but particularly valuable today in the midst of the world-wide coronavirus pandemic and the protests that aim to arrest police brutality against African Americans and their communities. Full article
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Article
The Anthropocene, Technology and Fictional Literature
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 56; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030056 - 02 Jul 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 817
Abstract
In the Geosciences, the new concept of the Anthropocene has been well established. Today, in the Humanities, it is increasingly also accepted as centrally relevant because it allows us to describe our present world in a more accurate fashion. The critical question of [...] Read more.
In the Geosciences, the new concept of the Anthropocene has been well established. Today, in the Humanities, it is increasingly also accepted as centrally relevant because it allows us to describe our present world in a more accurate fashion. The critical question of this study is what opportunities result from literature and literary studies in order to increase our understanding of the Anthropocene. This essay argues in favor of promoting the study of literature and of the Humanities in the search for necessary impulses that might free us from unilateral-instrumental concepts employed by the Natural Sciences as the only academic field that might be able to solve problems using exclusively technological strategies. We live in the Anthropocene now and must engage with it critically by drawing from both the Natural Sciences and the Humanities if we want to hope for a livable future here on earth. Full article
Article
Weeping in the Face of Fortune: Eco-Alienation in the Niger-Delta Ecopoetics
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 54; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030054 - 30 Jun 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 675
Abstract
Scholarship on Niger Delta ecopoetry has concentrated on the economic, socio-political and cultural implications of eco-degradation in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of the South-South in Nigeria, but falls short of addressing the trope of eco-alienation, the sense of separation between people and [...] Read more.
Scholarship on Niger Delta ecopoetry has concentrated on the economic, socio-political and cultural implications of eco-degradation in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of the South-South in Nigeria, but falls short of addressing the trope of eco-alienation, the sense of separation between people and nature, which seems to be a significant idea in Niger Delta ecopoetics. For sure, literary studies in particular and the Humanities at large have shown considerable interest in the concept of the Anthropocene and the resultant eco-alienation which has dominated contemporary global ecopoetics since the 18th century. In the age of the Anthropocene, human beings deploy their exceptional capabilities to alter nature and its essence, including the ecosystem, which invariably leads to eco-alienation, a sense of breach in the relationship between people and nature. For the Humanities, if this Anthropocentric positioning of humans has brought socio-economic advancement to humans, it has equally eroded human values. This paper thus attempts to show that the anthropocentric positioning of humans at the center of the universe, with its resultant hyper-capitalist greed, is the premise in the discussion of eco-alienation in Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues and Home Songs (1998) and Nnimmo Bassey’s We Thought It Was Oil but It Was Blood (2002). Arguing that both poetry collections articulate the feeling of disconnect between the inhabitants of the Niger Delta region and the oil wealth in their community, the paper strives to demonstrate that the Niger Delta indigenes, as a result, have been compelled to perceive the oil environment no longer as a source of improved life but as a metaphor for death. Relying on ecocritical discursive strategies, and seeking to further foreground the implication of the Anthropocene in the conception of eco-alienation, the paper demonstrates how poetry, as a humanistic discipline, lives up to its promise as a powerful medium for interrogating the trope of eco-estrangement both in contemporary Niger Delta ecopoetry and in global eco-discourse. Full article
Article
Defining and Defending the Middle Ages with C. S. Lewis
Humanities 2020, 9(2), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9020051 - 18 Jun 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 709
Abstract
The scholarly writings of C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) have both inspired the study of the Middle Ages and confirmed the relevance to the humanities that medieval literary texts can have for the present. He was aware that the straitjacket implied by periodisation can [...] Read more.
The scholarly writings of C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) have both inspired the study of the Middle Ages and confirmed the relevance to the humanities that medieval literary texts can have for the present. He was aware that the straitjacket implied by periodisation can blind us to the universal values presented in medieval literature. Qualitative assumptions made about the (usually undefined) Middle Ages include an alienating remoteness, and also a general ignorance, especially of science and technology. Lewis drew attention to the knowledge of astronomy, for example, and pointed out that medieval technical skills in architecture, agriculture and medicine are important for us to be aware about. Three medieval works illustrate this universality with respect to technical skills (the Völundarkviða); identity and the self (the Hildebrandslied); and the popular love-song (the courtly love-lyric). Lewis cautioned against pejorative terms like ‘Dark Ages’, noted problems of perspective in assessing all pre-modern literature, and showed that earlier works have a continuing value and relevance. Full article
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