Can evolution explain acts of kindness, and morality? [The Guardian]
We arranged a debate between a sceptical Tom Stoppard and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Stuart Jeffries acted as referee. We arranged for the two to meet recently in the grand boardroom of Wilson’s London publishers to discuss their differences, and reflect on two hard problems – what is the proper scope of science, and what is it to be human.
Robert Pippin spoke at High Concept Labs for The Point Magazine's 'New Humanities' issue: Ways of Knowing
We’re here because universities are experiencing a sense of crisis in the organization of knowledge. But it probably should be said just briefly, at the beginning, that this is also taking place within a crisis in the university system in the United States more generally. It’s been a long time building and it’s now rather critical. I mean, the indications of the crisis are well known to all of us: The figure that I heard is that in the last 25 years, there has been a 500 percent increase in tuition at private and public universities on average. There’s been massive defunding of state universities by state legislatures. When I began my career at the University of California at San Diego, 70 percent of the budget was funded by the state legislature. That’s down to under 20 percent, and students now have to pay $14,000 per year tuition if they’re in-state students, and in the twenties if they’re not. And they often leave college with debts totaling more than $50,000 or $60,000. This is the new way that universities are financed.[more inside]
“I’m always surprised to see what I do,” Jean-Luc Godard admits at the beginning of a talk delivered, nearly four decades ago, at Concordia University in Montreal. Could the single most influential filmmaker of his generation, who is still a provocateur at age 84, possibly be as baffled as we? [more inside]
Danny Cooke’s Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl summons a lost history of familiar and alien dreams. The drone-mounted camera glides deliberately through the spaces within and above the empty city. The soundtrack is haunting, or “haunting.” We think of drones moving relentlessly forward: into the hidden terrain of surveillance, into the kill zone, into the future. Yet many of the shots point the lens in reverse, effectively pulling back to show first a figure and only then its surroundings. A diving platform with paint peeled away, then the empty pool. A circular emblem, large and sculptural, then the great apartment block on whose roof it sits, visible for miles. Not all shots follow this rule, and not all are taken by drone, but this is the general approach of Danny Cooke’s Postcards From Pripyat, Chernobyl, a three-minute video from last year. It’s quite beautiful. [more inside]
Neither Thucydides, Gibbon, von Ranke, nor Braudel ever cited a paper appearing in Geophysical Research Letters. They did not worry themselves about fluctuations in the Siberian High or the Southern Oscillation. The vast majority of more recent historians also remained untroubled by such concerns. However, in the past five years, a handful of highly distinguished historians have come out with new books that put climate at the center of historical explanation. What on Earth is going on? [more inside]
The chaplain then explained how he had spoken with the dead man’s wife, who related a vivid dream she’d had that night of her husband standing next to her bed, apologizing and explaining that he had been in a car accident, and that his car was in a ditch where it could not be seen from the road...They recovered the body 20 minutes later. Most scholars have no idea what to do with such poignant, powerful stories, other than to dismiss them with lazy words like "anecdote" or "coincidence."...We should put these extreme narratives, these impossible stories, in the middle of our academic table. I would also like to make a wager, here and now, that once we put these currently rejected forms of knowledge on our academic table, things that were once impossible to imagine will soon become possible not only to imagine but also to think, theorize, and even test. Professor Jeffrey Kripal explains why the humanities needs to expand its field of acceptable topics for investigation.
...one of the jobs of a publisher, I really believe, is to keep all forms in play, precisely because it is in keeping all forms in play (which forms are themselves always being reshaped in some fashion as they come into contact with each other) -- that creativity has the widest possible purchase on how things might turn out. Eileen Joy, co-director of open-access quasi-scholarly print-on-demand press Punctum Books, gives a talk on the state and future of open-access publishing in the academy and the arts.
JM Coetzee's foreword to John Higgins's new book Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa, which among other topics, includes an extended interview with Nelson Mandela ally and academic Jakes Gerwel on the importance of the humanities in both the anti-apartheid struggle. In an excerpt from the interview, Gerwel stated that Apartheid was to a large degree also “a battle of and over ideas, a battle of the priority of one set of ideas over another, and in this struggle the human and social sciences played a great and liberating role.” A (pdf) history of South African education under apartheid.
Academics are farmers and intellectuals are hunters - and the hunters may be the future of the liberal arts, writes Jack Miles.
Why would a liberal education, the deeper acquaintance with a number of diverse modes of symbolic production, enhance our freedom? University of Chicago sociology professor Andreas Glaeser, in his 2005 Aims of Education Address to incoming students, muses: How About Becoming a Poet?
So you see, I am not making a brief against reading the classics of Western literature. Far from it. I am against taking these startling epiphanies of the irrational, unspoken, unthought-of side of human life into the college classroom and turning them into the bland exercises in competition, hierarchy and information-accumulation that are these works' mortal enemies. An essay by Lee Siegel (SLWSJ)
For decades the sciences and the humanities have fought for knowledge supremacy. Both sides are wrong-headed
Dale Askey is a librarian. He blogs. In August 2010, Dale was a tenured associate professor at Kansas State University, where librarians are granted faculty status. There, Dale blogged about the quality, and prices, of publications from Edwin Mellen Press. Edwin Mellen Press has served McMaster University (Dale's current employer) and himself with a three million dollar lawsuit, alleging libel and claiming aggravated and exemplary damages. [more inside]
Recent developments in online learning have increasingly democratized the exchange of information in higher education: the launch of University of the People, a tuition-free online university; Khan Academy's acquisition of SmartHistory and its growing emphasis on humanities and liberal arts; the University of Reddit's crowd-sourced lessons being taught in real-world classrooms; Skillshare creating a community marketplace for teachers and students; Lore opening its doors to learners from all walks of life; major institutes in India putting every class lecture on YouTube in English; LectureFox collating together free university lectures from across the web. Of course not everyone is happy with the way things are going.
After an inquisitive prison inmate challenged his notions of poverty and its solutions, Earl Shorris embarked on a project to share the humanities with poor students in New York City. In this article for Harper's Magazine, he remembers his struggles and triumphs with funding, material, and the students. As income inequality in the US continues to rise, other well known figures have different ideas. Shorris died recently this year, and obituaries appeared in The New York Times, The Daily News and The Nation. A full archive of his articles for Harper's can be found here.
Who are the alt-acs? They are people with graduate education (mostly in the humanities and library science) who have decided to pursue alternative academic careers. They choose to skip the "dues-paying crap" often associated with pursuing a traditional tenure-track job, and avoid languishing in unrewarding adjunct assignments. They also tweet like mad. The results of a new (and, as of this writing, ongoing) #alt-ac census show alt-acs thriving in diverse positions; there's a strong contingent involved in the digital humanities, but also a historian at the U.S. Department of State, an exhibit developer at the National Constitution Center, and a self-employed "Editor, musicologist." [more inside]
Last night, author and farmer Wendell Berry delivered a powerful lecture [video; full text here includes portions not delivered verbally] to a full house on the occasion of his accepting the National Endowment of the Humanities' Jefferson Award. The famous PC holdout has appeared previously in the blue, but this lecture is not to be missed. Here is soul nourishment for the long-time Berry follower, and for the newcomer a superb introduction to one of our time's greatest intellects. [more inside]
Cioran's literary elitism is unparalleled in modern literature, and for that reason he often appears as a nuisance for modern and sentimental ears poised for the lullaby words of eternal earthly or spiritual bliss. Cioran's hatred of the present and the future, his disrespect for life, will certainly continue to antagonize the apostles of modernity who never tire of chanting vague promises about the "better here-and-now." ... If one could reduce the portrayal of Cioran to one short paragraph, then one must depict him as an author who sees in the modern veneration of the intellect a blueprint for spiritual gulags and the uglification of the world. Indeed, for Cioran, man's task is to wash himself in the school of existential futility, for futility is not hopelessness; futility is a reward for those wishing to rid themselves of the epidemic of life and the virus of hope. Probably, this picture best befits the man who describes himself as a fanatic without any convictions--a stranded accident in the cosmos who casts nostalgic looks towards his quick disappearance. - Tomislav Sunic [more inside]
Humanities and the Liberal Arts is the personal website of former Middlebury classics professor William Harris who passed away in 2009. In his retirement he crafted a wonderful site full of essays, music, sculpture, poetry and his thoughts on anything from education to technology. But the heart of the website for me is, unsurprisingly, his essays on ancient Latin and Greek literature some of whom are book-length works. Here are a few examples: Purple color in Homer, complete fragments of Heraclitus, how to read Homer and Vergil, a discussion of a recently unearthed poem by Sappho, Plato and mathematics, Propertius' war poems, and finally, especially close to my heart, his commentaries on the poetry of Catullus, for example on Ipsithilla, Odi et amo, Attis poem as dramatic dance performance and a couple of very dirty poems (even by Catullus' standard). That's just a taste of the riches found on Harris' site, which has been around nearly as long as the world wide web has existed.
Dorothy Gambrell of Cat And Girl fame spends an awful lot of time talking about education, class, debt, money, and the hollow promise of aspirational media to discuss how much she hates Good Will Hunting
We are making journal content on JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere, freely available to the public for reading and downloading. This includes nearly 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals, representing approximately 6% of the total content on JSTOR.
Philosopher A C Grayling announces the establishment of a new force in Higher Education in England: the New College of the Humanities, with much trumpeting of its all-star line-up, and its promise to "inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers and teachers" . [more inside]
How to define digital humanities? "the humanities done digitallys"? Should we expand the definition of the field to include, as I've heard it said several times, "every medievalist with a Web site"? Undoubtedly not. Yeah, not. Rather, The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do, as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another. [more inside]
digitalculturebooks is an imprint of University of Michigan Press which releases scholarly books under a creative commons license. They've got 19 books published already and more on the way. Among those on offer are poet and English professor Kevin Stein's Poetry's Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age, anthropologist Bonnie A. Nardi's My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft, English professor Buzz Alexander's Is William Martinez Not Our Brother?: Twenty Years of the Prison Creative Arts Project and English professor Elizabeth Carolyn Miller's Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle. If you don't want to read a whole book they also have essay collections, such as Civic Engagement in the Wake of Katrina and Best Technology Writing 2008, which includes pieces by, among others, Cass Sunstein, Robin Meija and Walter Kirn. [previously, Rock Paper Shotgun scribe Jim Rossignol's This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities]
A Faustian Bargain: perhaps the best defense of the humanities in higher education you will ever read in a peer-reviewed biology journal (or maybe anywhere). [more inside]
Mapping the Republic of Letters is a cartographic tool designed by students and professors at Stanford that seeks to represent the Enlightenment era Republic of Letters, the network of correspondence between the finest thinkers of the day, such as Voltaire, Leibniz, Rousseau, Newton, Diderot, Linnaeus, Franklin and countless others. Patricia Cohen wrote an article about Mapping the Republic of Letters as well as other datamining digital humanities projects in The New York Times. The mapping tool is fun to play with but I recommend you read the blogpost where Cohen explains how to use Mapping the Republic of Letters.
Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. (c. 2007 SLYT TED talk)
King's College London is planning to eliminate 22 positions in Arts and Humanities, including the elimination of the entire Palaeography department. [more inside]
DFG Science TV is back. Researchers documenting their work. If you missed the first series, it is still available for viewing.
Last night Joss Whedon received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism at Harvard, taking the opportunity to talk about religion and education (somewhat rough video), as well as taking questions about Dollhouse, his probably-soon-to-be-cancelled not-all-to-be-shown show. I wonder how these guys are doing.
Digital Research Tools (DiRT) is a wiki created by Lisa Spiro, director of Rice University's Digital Media Center. Tons of "snapshot reviews of software that can help researchers" are categorized by what you're trying to accomplish ("Analyze Statistics," "Network With Other Researchers," "Search Visually"), as well as by general topic ("Authoring," "Linguistic Tools," "Text Analysis"). Via
An old professor of mine used to ask graduating students, "What is the single most important true proposition or fact (not theory) that you learned in university?" This question has been aimed at many fields, and social scientists have long and famously struggled to find good answers, while scientists have had a large number of options, and those who study the humanities wonder if they can even answer similar questions. What is your most important (or interesting) fact?
Camille Paglia: WHAT went wrong at Harvard? "Over the past 40 years, there has been a radical expansion of administrative bureaucracies on American college campuses that has distorted the budget and turned education toward consumerism, a checkbook alliance with parents who are being bled dry by grotesquely exorbitant tuitions."
' "Oh, you're going to the MLA? What a riot. They're a bunch of sitting ducks." I hadn't been planning to shoot at them, I said'. Lewis Kraus attends the 119th Annual MLA Conference, and asks what it means to be an English professor after the 'crisis of the humanities'.
The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild began in 1992 when two students of philosophy found their inner creativity in the midst of a dwindling academic job market. As it turned out, fulfilling gift giving needs proved to be almost as satisfying as probing eternal questions. They offer such items as "Freudian Slippers", "Nietzsche's Will to Power Bars", "Brainy Beanies", and "Dorothy Parker Martini Glasses".