Chancellor Biddy Martin proclaimed the 2009-10 academic year the “Year of the Humanities,” bringing with it a series of lectures, performances and other events that will educate students, as well as the general public, on the impact of the humanities.
Originally started by the Arts and Humanities Strategic Planning Council, Steven Nadler, chair of the Philosophy Department, said the program was put in place for this school year due to the number of anniversaries on campus related to the humanities.
These include the 50th anniversary of the Institute for Research in the Humanities and the 10th anniversary of the Center for the Humanities, among others.
The goal of the program is not simply to raise awareness about the humanities but to inform people about what the humanities are, according to Nadler.
“People are generally aware of the humanities, but there’s not much sense of what people in the humanities do, why they are interesting and why they’re relevant,” Nadler said.
Those in the humanities study the achievements made by human beings whether in history, philosophy or literature.
Through the program, Nadler hopes students and the public in general will gain a sense of how much the humanities impact their lives.
“All students who have to take history or English or satisfy a literature requirement need the humanities,” he said.
From rap performances to philosophy symposiums, the Year of the Humanities has a wide range of events that Nadler said he hopes will help students and the public realize the wide scope of the humanities.
Kicking off the series, Martha Nussbaum, an Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, gave a lecture Monday night titled “Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.”
The lecture focused on how the humanities are losing influence in curriculum around the United States and the world in place of scientific and technical programs.
According to Nussbaum, the humanities and arts are being cut away while nations today prefer to pursue short-term profit in fields such as engineering and computer technology.
Third-year UW Ph.D. candidate Andrew Mahlstedt said he felt positive about the program.
“I think [the Year of the Humanities] is a great way of bringing big-name humanists to the public,” Mahlstedt said.
Martin, a scholar of the humanities herself, said she wishes there were no need for the program because it suggests that the humanities are not as a prominent as other fields of study.
Despite this, Martin was enthusiastic about the attendance of the first event and the program in general and said she hopes it will help raise the profile of the humanities.
Coinciding with the first year of implementation of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates that is primarily focused on the College of Letters and Science — including the humanities — Nadler said that the concurrence of the two programs will only help raise the importance of the humanities at UW.
“It’s the College of Letters and Science that’s the heart of UW, and the humanities is a major part of that,” Nadler said.