The Self-Fulfilling Death of Humanities


Fearing the depreciating value of the humanities fields drives away talent and financial resources, concludes Benjamin Winterhalter, writing for the Atlantic. Humanities subjects include research areas often difficult to assess through quantitative methods, but, despite policymakers’ interest in statistical data, many problems facing society are more complex than simple numbers:

There is little sense in denying that there is a crisis afoot in the humanities. But it’s myopic to focus on the crisis without acknowledging what the humanities really have to offer. In the absence of concrete understanding, we are left to spin about in anxious epicycles, fretting that our children’s art history and philosophy degrees will ultimately be worth no more than $4.85—the approximate cost of one page of fine bond paper. This kind of worry-worn discourse serves to reify and strengthen the downward trends in humanities enrollment. It not only makes the crisis worse; in some sense, it is the crisis. But it is painfully short-sighted to decide the value of art or literature or history solely in terms of today’s economic needs.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →