Humanities Committee Sounds an Alarm – Quants Answer

There has recently been a fair amount of discussion in venues like the New York Time (Humanities Committee Sounds an Alarm) about how the liberal arts (and humanities) are endangered.

This discussion was triggered by a report by the Commission on the Humanities & Social Sciences of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

As we strive to create a more civil public discourse, a more adaptable and creative workforce, and a more secure nation, the humanities and social sciences are the heart of the matter, the keeper of the republic—a source of national memory and civic vigor, cultural understanding and communication, individual fulfillment and the ideals we hold in common. They are critical to a democratic society and they require our support.

This report was requested by Senators from both parties and will be distributed back to Congress. It engages some of the current perceptions that the humanities are useless while STEM should promoted. Nationwide (in the USA) only 7.6 % of bachelor’s degrees are in the humanities (compared to 36% in 1954.)

Needless to say there are different views as to why the decline. Some have blamed the left-wing concern with race, class, and gender. Others blamed public rhetoric or emphasis on STEM. The New York Times now has an interesting article that references work by Ben Schmidt that shows the change might be due to women shifting from the humanities to business. See Ben Schmidt’s recent blog entry. The issues seem much more complex. Perhaps we should celebrate the success of newer professional disciplines in engaging segments of students that might not have attended college before.

What also stands out is how quantitative historians as providing answers to these questions that are at odds with the more theory driven answers.