Monthly Archives: October 2013

Crisis of confidence, redux.

If you’re a fan of what looks like it may well be innumeracy*, the latest installment from The Times in “crisis in the humanities” concern trolling is pretty darned good.

In all fairness, I’ll grant a couple of the author’s premises: many people, including leading humanists, really do feel** like there’s a crisis in the humanities. And there does seem to be a crisis in the humanities at Stanford. Heck, I’ll go one further: in time, that crisis well might become a self-fulfilling prophecy for universities around the United States.

But the numbers, linked here***, suggest that for the moment the crisis largely remains one of confidence. So maybe The Times should write an article about how humanists are neurotic and see doom and gloom wherever they look. The author can interview me!

Really, though, I’d read an article about who’ll benefit from an actual crisis in the humanities and whether those interests are implicated in drumming up this fake crisis.

* Without footnotes or links at The Times, I can’t know if the author is actually innumerate, just confused, or has access to numbers I’ve never seen (and suspect don’t exist).

** Because they read The Times? Because they listen to the Secretary of Education natter on and on and on about STEM? Because their funding is being cut? Who knows?

*** Nobody clicks links these days (because of the crisis in humanities blogging), so here’s the relevant information: Table 289 in The National Center for Education Statistics’s “Digest of Education Statistics” shows degrees granted by field of study for selected years between 1970 and 2010. That table reveals that in 1970-1971, 17.1% of students who received BAs in the United States majored in a humanities discipline. Three decades later, in the midst of the crisis in the humanities we hear so much about, that number had plummeted to 17%.

It’s worth adding that the number of students receiving MAs and PhDs in humanities disciplines has contracted (from 14.6% to 7.9% for MAs and from 6.8% to 4.9% for PhDs).

Crowdsourcing peer review.

As many of you know, a co-author and I have been working on a graphic history of the Civil War. It’s nearly done now (forthcoming from FSG), and I’m wondering if any of you want to take a look at what we’ve got so far. I’m thinking of this as an internal peer review — that way I can blame my inevitable errors on you. Kidding aside, if you’d like to help out, please let me know.