Reflections on the Humanities

Tuesday, January 13th

By Ritchey, Harvard ’17

This afternoon, we discussed the future of the humanities with Michael Witmore, the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Dr. Witmore’s specific question focused on how the library could attract younger visitors and supporters.. He explained how students’ preliminary relationship with Shakespeare, be it in secondary or high school, determines their likelihood to support the institution. Beyond the Folger Shakespeare Library, it seems as though the conversation regarding the sustainability or the love of arts occurs at all liberal arts schools and institutions. Perhaps I am biased as I am an art history concentrator and enthusiast, but I feel as though it is impossible for our society to ever fully evade the humanities.

The humanities provide us with a point of reference, a topic that many of us can discuss. For example, asking other people about their opinion of a novel, a piece of art, a song, a movie—anything related to the arts—can facilitate a conversation. While not everyone can discuss string theory or the laws of gravity, everyone can feel a reaction to a work of art. Therefore, I believe that the humanities give the public something powerful: a way to connect diverse people. Institutions such as Dumbarton Oaks and the Folger Shakespeare Library can further the research done on these various forms of art so that our public discourse about these objects will never be complete. There will always be more questions to ask, different opinions to address; it is rare to find a conversation that ends with, “Well we have exhausted the works of William Shakespeare.”

I am not fearful that support or love of the humanities will subside because it is one of the few aspects of culture that connects us all. Whether we are cognizant of the fact or not, we are all patrons of the humanities in some way. When we read a book, visit a museum, listen to music, or watch a movie, we are all supporters. Therefore, I feel somewhat reassured that the humanities will continue to have a large presence in our society.

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