What Are the Humanities (II)? Or ‘who are we all?’

Yesterday’s post on trying to define the humanities got lots of clicks but no answers.  On one hand I was disappointed not to have crowd sourced The Answer, on the other deeply relieved that it’s not just me who doesn’t know.  One person confessed on Twitter that they’d clicked through in the hope someone else had solved the riddle for them but it seems the question is too tricky for that.

So I thought I’d change the terms of the discussion to see whether that loosens people’s fingers and maybe shuffles us closer towards knowing what we’re trying to represent or save.

Please use the comments section to tell the world who you are and what you’re doing and, if you can, why you think this is part of the humanities.

I’ll start: I’m a part-time PhD student in the English Literature department at the University of Reading, writing about photography and childhood.  I’m also an ex-children’s bookseller and I initially used my English Literature undergrad degree to get into tourism marketing.  This interdisciplinarity is part of why I like having the umbrella term ‘humanities’ – it suggests I don’t have to stick with one thing, it gives me a sort of permission to extend my thinking to other areas.   I also don’t do numbers – I struggle with any kind of statistics and don’t use them in any of my work.  ‘Not numbers’ seems a rather perfunctory definition though – has anyone got any advances on this?

What are the Humanities?

I’ve been thinking about this question in rather literal terms over the last few days as I’ve been drafting the contact form for people interested in being one of our weekly guest editors (coming soon).  We’re looking for people who identify themselves as working within the humanities, which gets us out of answering this question somewhat, but in order to make sure we’re representing different areas each week I’ve made a tick-box list of different disciplines.  That way we (Jess and Krissie) can see at a glance who’s interested in what, making sure we have variety in the schedule.

Part of what I’m most excited about with this project is how many different jobs, research areas and interests we can potentially cover but it’s nagging at me that I’m still not entirely sure what I mean when I say ‘the humanities’.  How do we define ourselves and what does it mean when we exclude certain areas?  Does it matter that we might have different definitions in mind so long as we’re all in agreement that the humanities are important to societies, individuals and cultures – or is this difference prohibitive?  Will it get in the way of arguing for the importance of the humanities in public and private sectors and of how we might tackle cuts in funding and perceptions of value?

I’d be really interested in your definitions of the humanities, from the literal to the ideological; please add your thoughts in the comments.  If nothing else it will help make sure I don’t leave your discipline or role off that checklist…


Welcome to We The Humanities

A very warm welcome to everyone who has followed the new rotation curation account for the humanities in the last few days.  If you’re at a loose end you could do a lot worse than browsing our Followers list – already it showcases the diversity of the humanities and there are some interesting and eye-opening accounts on there.

This post is a bit of a placeholder as we’re still in the planning stages.  At the moment ‘we’ is me (@jessisreading80) and, as of Friday when I meet up with her, Krissie (@krisreadsbooks).  If you’d like to help administrate the account please get in touch.

The next steps, as I see it at the moment, are as follows:

1) Recruit curators.  We’ve had quite a bit of interest already so we’re planning on setting up an online form.  This will help us get to know curators a little bit so that we can vary the schedule between different subjects and between researchers and practitioners.

2) Find a Big Name or two to help us launch the account.  We want to start with a bang and give the account as big a boost in follower numbers as possible before the guest editors get started so we’re looking for a couple of Big Names from the humanities to help us out.  Ideally they’ll hijack the account for a few days each, tweeting as a guest editor and encouraging their regular followers to become our regular followers too.  This will also mean that the first scheduled curator has a healthy bunch of people listening to them.  As this is an outreach account and we want it to give people a voice in an arena in which they might not usually be heard this is an important (if tricky) task.  Can you help?  Please share this request with your followers, recommend Big Names to us and/or hit them up on our behalf.

3) Work out how to run this thing. Upulie, a founder of @realscientists, the account that was part of the inspiration for We The Humanities, has already given us lots of tips about setting up but we’re still putting the finishing touches to the logistics (password handover, handover day, number of administrators needed etc).  We’re meeting on Friday to try and iron these things out; thanks for bearing with us in the meantime.

In between plotting and planning we’re really enjoying reading everyone’s generous mentions and shares of @wethehumanities as well as the interesting links and tidbits people have been sending through to us – please keep them coming.  And if you are in a position to help us promote the account – on Twitter, in your staff room, on your blog, with skywriting – thank you very much for your support.