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HUMANITIES FUTURES

The 2024-2025 John W. Altman Program in the Humanities

In 1969, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences devoted an issue of its journal, Daedalus, to “The Future of the Humanities." In it, leading scholars responded to “an imminent crisis” in which “the future of liberal education was threatened by the dominance of a scientific world-view concerned only with cold facts.” Contributors described relentless public criticism about the perceived impracticality of the liberal arts, and they debated whether to defend or reshape their disciplines. Half a century later—amid spiraling tuition costs, declining state funding, and deepening public distrust—this criticism is no longer external to the academy. It is the organizing principle of an increasingly neoliberal and professionally-oriented university system. Yet the rush toward "practical" training seems only to intensify anxiety about the future of higher education.

Can this future be bright without the perspective and imaginative power of the humanities? While learning from the past, the humanities have always been engaged with the future—sometimes as utopia, sometimes as a specter to be avoided by ethical reason, historical perspective, and critical imagination. As “The Future of the Humanities” suggested, the value of the humanities lies partly in their skepticism that technical knowledge alone can ensure a future of comfort, profit, justice, and freedom. It is no accident that the classic dystopias of Huxley, Orwell, Atwood, and Butler spring from a technocratic disdain for art, literature, and history. They suggest that the fate of the humanities is inseparable from the fate of society. How can we imagine our way out of the crises of our time without the disciplines that study human history and creativity? Perhaps the right question is not, “what is the future of the humanities?,” but rather “how can the humanities help create a better university and a better society?”  

The 2024-2025 Altman Program invites the entire Miami University community to explore the humanities futures, past and present.  Timed to coincide with Provost Elizabeth Mullenix’s two-year “Humanities Futures Initiative,” the program will bring together faculty, students, distinguished visitors, and the public to consider the future of the liberal arts in modern democratic society and our own university. How has the idea of the humanities evolved from its ancient scholarly roots through Renaissance humanism, the rise of universities, the nationalisms of the twentieth century, the spread of critical theory, and the global turn? What can we learn from Miami’s own history? How should we respond to the pressures of the present? And can we chart a future in which Miami serves as a model for the future of the liberal arts and humanities everywhere?