Humanities “Crisis” and Demographics

In an article in this week’s New Republic, Nora Caplan-Bricker reprises other recent articles by Nate Silver and Benjamin Schmidt to debunk the Humanities “decline” or “crisis” narratives. Most articles pointing to a current “crisis” are based on a dramatic decline in ‘degrees completed’ in the 1960s. Caplan-Bricker reminds us that a big reason for the drop in the 60s was the opening of professional majors to women. Since then the number of degrees completed in the Humanities has been more or less stable. Why then do critics complain about a crisis today due to a demographic shift from decades ago? If there is, indeed, a current crisis (and there is, for example, in academic employment for recent PhDs) we need to be precise about its causes and potential remedies. The typical strategy is to cite an isolated drop in enrollment here and a department consolidation there in order to point to larger issues with curriculum or the putative lack of marketability of humanities degrees.

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