Handmaiden’s tale

October 17, 2013

Your review of Helen Small’s The Value of the Humanities summarises the five main arguments made in support of the discipline (“Calm voice lauds humanities’ part in public conversation”, News, 26 September). One is that it plays “a gadfly function in democracy”. There is also a sixth.

At my small liberal arts university, a presidential search is under way. In its notice to potential candidates, the headhunting firm notes the university’s foundation in the arts and sciences, recognises growing strengths in the “professional disciplines” and points out that such disciplines “draw on” the arts. Indeed, “the humanities and social sciences…are well integrated and synergistic with professional programs, offering courses in ethical practice, contemporary issues, and geopolitical contexts”. More handmaiden than gadfly now, it seems.

John Edwards
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

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