The Humanities

History L&S23

Fall 2015
Daniel Boyarin
159 Mulford
Day & Time: 
TuTh 5-6:30p

"The Humanities" were once considered the core of a liberal arts education, but today they often find themselves forced to justify their very existence. Some fifty years ago, Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, described "liberal education" as "certain intellectual luxuries that we could do without for a year or two"; "intellectual curiosity," he said, "is not something taxpayers should be subsidizing." How did this sort of thinking come about, and is it valid? What does it mean for the university and for the kind of education it offers? In response to such challenges, the humanities have increasingly endeavored to make themselves more professional and more "scientific." What has been lost and what has been gained in this process? Can we still think of the humanities as aiming at the self-examination of the human by the human?

Through the lens of six representative disciplines (History, History of Art, Anthropology, Archaeology, Religion, and Rhetoric), this course will address these very issues, introducing students to the basic approaches, dilemmas, and vocabularies of current disciplinary research in the humanities at major American research universities like Berkeley. In each two-week block on a separate discipline, the first week employs readings that sketch the history of the discipline itself, including its original and present-day objectives and typical working methods; in the second week, students will find a unit of readings that illustrate and sometimes problematize the work of the some of the most prominent thinkers in that particular discipline. Conversations with faculty, fellow students, and guest lecturers will invite students to sharpen their awareness of the range of disciplines housed within the humanities, so that students may come to recognize themselves as heirs of rich intellectual, artistic, and ethical traditions. The course instructors believe this: The humanities still offer students an entryway into different experiential worlds, for the humanities open our eyes to the distinctive ways that people in different places and in different times, in different cultures and in different groups, have imagined what it means to be human. We welcome you to join the exploration, widening your horizons and inciting your sense of curiosity.