On Thursday, September 28th, 2023, MU celebrated the launch of the Center for the Humanities. This center’s mission statement captures the essence of the role of humanists in our quest for knowledge: “Humanists engage in unique practices of worldmaking.”
No matter our discipline of expertise, our humanity is core to the work we do. Our language, culture, technology, scientific methods and inquiry, and our institutional structures are built on our sense of identity and humanity. The launch celebration included a panel discussion featuring Giselle Anatol (Interim Director of the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas), Stephanie Kirk (Director of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis), and Robert D. Newman (Director of the National Humanities Center), and was moderated by MU’s Dr. Sheri-Marie Harrison, associate dean in the College of Arts & Science. As Newman explained, the humanities are about asking questions that do not have answers. The study of humanities teaches us to question our beliefs as much as those of others, to reflect not just on the what and the how but on the why. It is about being continuously curious so that we become lifelong learners. In a world where the half-life of our knowledge is decreasing, skills to ensure lifelong learning will be both required and assumed. The humanities, and the humanists who have devoted their lives to such knowledge, can teach us to grow into such a mindset.
At the same time, universities are challenged by declining student enrollment in the humanities. The panel discussed the need to improve our messaging about the role of humanists. And the improved message needs to be shared with parents, students, employers, community members, and colleagues in other disciplines. We must empower faculty who are engaged in such outreach so that their work is recognized and valued. It was a message that resonated with the audience.
Thank you to the College of Arts and Science for leading this effort and for launching the Center for the Humanities at MU.