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Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


There has never been a great age of science and technology without a corresponding flourishing of the arts and humanities. In any time or place of rapid technological advance, those creatures we would now call humanists—literary commentators, historians, philosophers, logicians, theologians, linguists, scholars of the arts, and all manner of writers, musicians, and artists—have also had a field day. Perhaps that generalization is actually a tautology. Great ages of science are great ages of the humanities because an age isn't a historical period but a construct, and constructs are the work of humanists. Throughout history, there have been many momentous scientific discoveries that simply drift into the culture, are adapted without any particular new social or philosophical arrangements. It is the humanistic articulation of the significance of scientific change that announces a new episteme, a world-altering, even metaphysical, transformation. While scientists and engineers are responsible for the discoveries and inventions, humanists consolidate those experimental findings, explain them, and aggregate their impact in such a way that we suddenly have not just the new but an epoch-defining paradigm shift. (E = mc is an equation; the concept of relativity is a defining intellectual model.) The humanistic turn of mind provides the historical perspective, interpretive skill, critical analysis, and narrative form required to articulate the significance of the scientific discoveries of an era, show how they change our sense of what it means to be human, and demarcate their continuity with or difference from existing ideologies.

The Changing Profession
Copyright © 2008 by The Modern Language Association of America

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