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What's Happened to the Humanities?
Edited by Alvin B. Kernan
With a foreword by William Bowen and Harold Shapiro

Paperback | 2014 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691602462
Hardcover | 2016 | $99.95 | £83.95 | ISBN: 9780691631943
276 pp. | 6 x 9
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This volume of specially commissioned original essays presents the thoughts of some of the most distinguished commentators within the American academy on the fundamental changes that have taken place in the humanities in the latter part of the twentieth century. In the transformation of American higher education from the university to the "demoversity," the humanities have become a less and less important part of education, a matter established by a statistical appendix and elaborated on in several of the essays. The individual essays offer close observations into how the humanities have been affected by declining academic status, by demographic shifts, by reductions in financial support, and by changing communication technology. They also explore the effect of these forces on books, libraries, and the phenomenology of reading in the age of images. When basic conditions change, theory follows, and several essays trace the appearance and effect of new relativistic epistemologies in the humanities. Social institutions change as well in such circumstances, and the volume concludes with studies of the new social arrangements that have developed in the humanities in recent years: the attack on professionalism and the effort to transform the humanities into the social conscience of academia and even of the nation as a whole.

Cause and effect? Who can say? What the essays make clear, however, is that as the humanities have become less significant in American higher education, they have also been the scene of unusually energetic pedagogical, social, and intellectual changes.

The contributors to the volume are David Bromwich, John D'Arms, Denis Donoghue, Carla Hesse, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lynn Hunt, Frank Kermode, Louis Menand, Francis Oakley, Christopher Ricks, and Margery Sabin. Included is a substantial introduction by Alvin Kernan and an appendix of tables and figures showing baccalaureate and doctoral degrees over the years in various types of schools.

Originally published in 1997.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.


"The authors shrewdly analyze the dangers posed by new wave, post-modern scholarship. Though the reader may not agree with all their assessments, their arguments are powerfully and judiciously marshaled and laid out in succinct, lucid prose. . . . a highly eclectic volume, but a volume that should be read. . . by the reader interested in the intellectual, social and pedagogical changes sustained by the humanities in the closing years of this century."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"The forces that have buffeted the humanities are not entirely external to them, as most of the contributions acknowledge. The state of the humanities is, after all, related to the state of humanists."--James M. Morris, Wilson Quarterly

"Kernan's contributors supply useful perspectives about the recent history of U.S. universities and their potential future, of particular interest to readers fascinated by university trends and the sometimes noisy battles within academe over the institutions' objectives and the meaning and value of the humanities."--Booklist

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Change in the Humanities and Higher Education 3
1 Democratization and Decline? The Consequences of Demographic Change in the Humanities 17
2 Funding Trends in the Academic Humanities, 1970-1995: Reflections on the Stability of the System 32
3 Ignorant Armies and Nighttime Clashes: Changes in the Humanities Classroom, 1970-1995 63
4 Evolution and Revolution: Change in the Literary Humanities, 1968-1995 84
5 Humanities and the Library in the Digital Age 107
6 The Practice of Reading 122
7 "Beyond Method" 143
8 Changing Epochs 162
9 The Pursuit of Metaphor 179
10 The Demise of Disciplinary Authority 201
11 Scholarship as Social Action 220
Appendix Tables and Figures on B.A.s and Ph.D.s in the Humanities, 1966-1993 245
About the Contributors 259
Index 261

This book has been translated into:

  • Japanese

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by William G. Bowen:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Harold T. Shapiro:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Alvin B. Kernan:


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Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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