There is an interesting article in today’s NY Times by Patricia Cohen, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Starting with the idea that over the generations there has been the idea that a “traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice,” Cohen then focuses on the notion that many are now arguing that the current economic situation challenges such a belief. Cohen points to recent surveys, news about the cancellation of faculty searches in areas like religion and philosophy, and the need for the humanities “to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care. Some of the staunchest humanities advocates, however, admit that they have failed to make their case effectively.” She cites individuals who are trying to emphasize the practical value of the humanities.
Schools like ours, with strong interests in information technology and a focus on professions such as librarianship and archives, may be in a good position to demonstrate this link between the humanities and needed vocations such as represented by the information professions. The majority of archives students continue to arrive with a background in the humanities, and it is a necessary background for understanding the history and evolution of archives and recordkeeping systems. We need to consider how to capitalize on this relationship, partly as a demonstration of why humanities backgrounds are still vitally important in our present era of technocratic and other priorities.