Arts and impact: with friends like these (1 of 4)

November 18, 2010

The humanities may yet survive, if only they can be protected from their current advocates. The articles by Judy Simons and Rick Rylance ("REF pilot: humanities impact is evident and can be measured" and "The art of staying hopeful", 11 November) betray the very cause they are defending.

The defence of the humanities within a business model predicated on consumer choice fosters in its advocates the most conceited form of 19th-century historicism and the most craven version of 19th-century utilitarianism. It implies that great works and ideas that have been part of received culture for centuries only now, in the current conservative dispensation of the first decade of the 21st century, can be made to reveal their true raison d'être: their social-commercial value (by implication, their ultimate worth).

It needs to be stated emphatically: there is nothing in this "defence" of the humanities that really addresses their actual, current crisis, and nothing that is "humanistic" at all.

Martin L. Davies, Reader, School of Historical Studies, University of Leicester.

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