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Forum on Public Policy Online, v2007 n1 Win 2007

The debate over the crisis in the humanities has focused on several disparate problems but failed to illuminate their underlying ground. To understand the crisis we have to understand the genealogy of the university and the origin of the humanities as a distinct set of disciplines. The university has been governed by four distinct models of higher education: the Christian university; the liberal arts college; the research university; and the commercial university. The more recent models have not simply replaced the older models; instead older institutions have been incorporated into more recent institutions and reinterpreted in light of their basic assumptions. "The humanities" first appeared as such within the liberal arts model, and the original aims of humanistic education were grounded in that model's basic assumptions about the nature of truth, language, and tradition. The humanities were thrown into crisis when the liberal arts college was incorporated into the modern research university, and when the humanistic disciplines were detached from the assumptions that supported their original aims, reinterpreted in light of the assumptions about truth, language, and tradition underlying the research university, and recast in the mold of the modern sciences. To begin to respond to the crisis in the humanities we have to both recover and reinvent the idea of the liberal arts.

Descriptors: Humanities, Higher Education, Models, Liberal Arts, Research Universities, Sciences, Educational Change

Oxford Round Table. 406 West Florida Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801. Tel: 217-344-0237; Fax: 217-344-6963; e-mail: editor[at]; Web site:

Autor: Arndt, David


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