Students Discuss Perception of Humanities

The Harvard Undergraduate Humanities Initiative, a new student group that aims to tackle critical issues regarding the perception of the humanities in modern society, held a discussion titled “Combating Skepticism in the Humanities” at the Barker Center Thursday evening.

The discussion was the first in a series called “Human Conversations,” targeted at providing humanities-focused students with an informal setting for discourse. The group aims to be recognized by the Office of Student Life during the spring semester, according to the Initiative’s founder Josh E. Stallings ’17.

The discussion was attended by about 20 students and featured an appearance from Diana Sorensen, dean of the Arts and Humanities Division. The dialogue focused on the perceived need to defend a humanities education as well as the notion of a divide between the humanities and the sciences.

Elena Monge Imedio ’18, an Initiative board member, addressed the perception of humanities courses as being less difficult than math or science courses.

“Nuance and a willingness to explore what we don’t know shouldn’t be seen as a weakness,” she said.

However, students were cautious to say that there was a clear division or sense of rivalry between the humanities and the sciences.

“I feel like people like to create this ‘us-them’ binary where all the science majors are here on the ground and all the humanities majors are floating off up on an island somewhere,” said Bridget R. Irvine ’16, an English concentrator. “I don’t know why people like to reinforce this binary.”

Others emphasized the underlying parallels in the humanities and sciences.

“When I talk to people, the most interesting discussions I’ve had center around the fact that we all need to answer normative questions about what we value, and why we value them,” said Gabriel H. Karger ’18 during the discussion. “No person is going to be able to go through life without answering these questions, whether it’s through science or humanities.”

For the majority of the students, the conversation provided a much-needed starting point: an environment for discussion.

“The sciences here are so big, and they all have their own communities and p-set groups and study sessions,” Irvine said. “[Computer Science 50] is like a country in itself. I’m glad that we have this group.”

Stallings said he hopes that the discussions will be an inviting space for students to explore issues regarding the humanities.

When asked about plans for the future of the Initiative, Stallings said the group has numerous ideas for more events, including a speaker series, internship and research opportunities, and conferences.

“Increasingly, there’s been a lot of dialogue about whether or not the humanities are important and what their importance is in this increasingly technologized world,” he said. “What we want to do is take on this question and answer it in a way that promotes and asserts the importance of the humanities.”

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