President's Letter for March 2013: STEM Subjects Are Not the Only Essential Ones

There has been a lot of talk in the US recently about the importance of encouraging the study of the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  In the UK, the civil service has long been advocating such an emphasis on STEM, although it is revealing that in the US people still tend to focus on whether this or that education is a good “investment” for the individual, whereas in Britain the government agencies are more concerned with which education is best for society as a whole (on “investment” as the wrong metaphor in the first place, see Bob Connor’s recent post).

In response to this new wave of pressure, there have been a number of excellent defenses of the value of studying non-STEM subjects, and I do not want to rehearse that case here; let me just refer you to the fine column in the Washington Post by Danielle Allen, for example, and to the new AHA website I recently recommended on making the case for the value of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  But I just want to comment on the background of the lawmakers who are the most recent ones to advocate strongly for specific practical steps to foster STEM.

The Economist recently had a leader on US immigration reform, in which they applauded in particular an initiative from a bipartisan group of eight Senators which would allow foreign nationals who go to US universities to remain in the country after graduation: “They would…give an automatic green card to anyone gaining a master’s degree or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or maths from an American university” (February 2nd, 2013, p.10).

This is a very controversial proposal in various ways, as is a similar proposal to give six-year visas to up to 300,000 foreign high-tech workers a year (see the New York TimesOp Ed piece on this subject last month by Ross Eisenbrey).  But it’s interesting that no one appears to be advocating giving an automatic green card to anyone gaining an advanced degree in the humanities or social sciences, although even at a crassly utilitarian level it might look like a good idea to increase the number of US residents who, for example, have an intimate knowledge of other languages and cultures.  I’m not necessarily arguing for such a green card policy myself, but the assumption that it is self-evidently “useful” to foster certain subjects and not others is worth pushing back against before it becomes completely automatic.

If you look at the educational background of the eight Senators, it’s even more interesting that they appear not to see value in retaining as a member of US society someone with a degree in humanities or social sciences.  Only one of the group (Lindsey Graham, R-SC) has an undergraduate major in a science subject (Psychology).  The others have undergraduate degrees in History (Michael Bennet, D-CO); International Relations (Dick Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL); Political Science (Bob Menendez, D-NJ); and Government (Chuck Schumer, D-NY).  John McCain (R-AZ) attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and so wasn’t in the business of choosing majors, but he preferred literary and historical subjects, reporting in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers: “Unfortunately, the curriculum at the Academy was weighted preponderantly toward math and the sciences” (p.134).

In their choices of major, these Senators are fairly representative of their colleagues in Congress.  In the 112th Congress, apart from the 26 Members of the House and the single Senator who had no more than a high school diploma, government and the humanities accounted for 55.7% of the undergraduate majors; 13.7% had degrees in Business and Accounting, with 8.4% in Economics.  24 members had a medical degree.  Only 11.5% of the members of the 112th Congress had an undergraduate major in Science and Technology (for these figures, see Mark J. Perry’s post).

I can’t help wondering if Messrs. Bennet, Durbin, Flake, Menendez, Rubio and Schumer actually believe that the subjects they majored in are useless and that their undergraduate education did not provide them with skills and perspectives that the country has benefitted from. 

Let me be clear: I am enthusiastically in favor of the study of STEM subjects, not least because I believe that science and mathematics are a vital part of a liberal arts education.  I’d be very happy to see more highly trained scientists and engineers in government (it may seem redundant to state this, but one can be easily misunderstood in these debates).  But the value of a general education in the liberal arts, including science, mathematics, the humanities and social sciences, is something we must keep affirming in the face of the consensus one can sense developing. 

I would like to imagine the day when a President gives a State of the Union address to Congress in which he or she quotes the wisdom of George Washington in the first ever State of the Union address, on January 8, 1790: “Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”  Even if we update the spelling and take away the Gothic “k” from “publick”, it is hard to imagine a President today writing those words, with their firm understanding of the value of the whole domain of knowledge.

Denis Feeney
President

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National Humanities Center

Residential Fellowships 2020-21

Call for Applications

The National Humanities Center invites applications for academic-year or one-semester residential fellowships. Mid-career, senior, and emerging scholars with a strong record of peer-reviewed work from all areas of the humanities are encouraged to apply.

Scholars from all parts of the globe are eligible; stipends and travel expenses are provided. Fellowship applicants must have a PhD or equivalent scholarly credentials. Fellowships are supported by the Center’s own endowment, private foundation grants, contributions from alumni and friends, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Located in the vibrant Research Triangle region of North Carolina, the Center affords access to the rich cultural and intellectual communities supported by the area’s research institutes, universities, and dynamic arts scene. Fellows enjoy private studies, in-house dining, and superb library services that deliver all research materials.

Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019. For more information and to apply, please visit the link below.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 07/30/2019 - 12:37pm by Erik Shell.
The Conference on Mediterranean and European Linguistic Anthropology 2020
 
Following the growth of The Global Network for Linguistic Anthropology, we announce The COMELA 2020, The Conference on Mediterranean and European Linguistic Anthropology 2020.

Purpose and Structure - Over 500 scholars globally will gather to present papers and engage in progressive discussion on the Linguistic Anthropology, Language and Society, and related fields, of The Mediterranean and Europe. The COMELA is fully Non-Profit, where all publishing with the JOMELA (its scholarly journal) is free, as the COMELA refuses to implement a pay to publish system. The COMELA sources funding/grants to assist people in impeded economic positions, who require funding to access the COMELA Conference, and display strong ability in their work. COMELA proceedings will be indexed with SCOPUS and will contribute to ranked and cited publications for all those accepted to present, as well as publishing papers in Top Tier Journal Publication Special Issues.

Location - American University of Greece, Athens, Greece

Date - September 2-5, 2020

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 07/29/2019 - 9:38am by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Calling all Actors, Designers, and Creatives—to participate in a staged reading of

The Gladiator
by Robert Montgomery Bird

Directed by Rob Groves

Friday, January 3, 2020

SCS/AIA Annual Meeting, Washington D.C.

The Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance's annual tradition of staged readings at the annual general meeting will continue this year with a production of an engaging example of Classical reception, Robert Montgomery Bird's 1831 retelling of the Spartacus story, The Gladiator!

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Tue, 07/23/2019 - 9:24am by Erik Shell.

I have always been a proponent of reading outside of one’s own field. We are all pressed for time, of course, and keeping up with the scholarship in our own areas of expertise is itself a constant challenge. But reading outside of our traditional areas of study is one of those intellectual activities in which even a little goes a long way towards exposing us to real and imagined worlds that can allow us to better reconstruct the ancient Mediterranean.

As an ancient Mediterranean historian, I have gained most from my reading in (loosely) adjacent historical fields, especially early China and early modern Europe. I have also benefitted from exploring research in social-scientific disciplines with which history is in ongoing dialogue, especially sociology and cultural anthropology. My reading in these fields could hardly be called systematic, but it doesn’t matter. The time spent reading outside of ancient Mediterranean history almost always repays the reader by presenting new questions, new approaches, and new ways to think about familiar material.

However, today I want to explore something a little different: how my ideas about the Roman Empire, my research and teaching focus, have been shaped by creative literature—an essential tool, I have found, for facilitating the leaps of historical imagination necessary for an empathetic (if ultimately incomplete) understanding of a world so alien from our own.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 07/22/2019 - 2:21pm by Carlos Noreña.

Classical Representations in Popular Culture

Southwest Popular / American Culture Association (SWPACA)

Area Chair: Benjamin S. Haller (bhaller@vwu.edu)

41st Annual Conference, February 19-22, 2020
Hyatt Regency Hotel & Conference Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico

http://www.southwestpca.org

Proposal submission deadline: October 31, 2019

Proposals for papers and panels are now being accepted for the 41st annual SWPACA conference.  One of the nation’s largest interdisciplinary academic conferences, SWPACA offers nearly 70 subject areas, each typically featuring multiple panels.  For a full list of subject areas, area descriptions, and Area Chairs, please visit http://southwestpca.org/conference/call-for-papers/

Classical Representations in Popular Culture

Papers on any aspect of Greek, Roman, or Mediterranean antiquity in contemporary or popular culture are eligible for consideration.

Classical Representations welcomes submissions on a broader range of topics including:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 07/19/2019 - 1:29pm by Erik Shell.

Call for Lightning Papers: Classics and Civic Activism

Joint AIA/SCS workshop, January 2–5, 2020, Washington, D.C.

Organizers: Yurie Hong (Gustavus Adolphus College), Marina Haworth (North Hennepin Community College), Amit Shilo (UC, Santa Barbara), T. H. M. Gellar-Goad (Wake Forest University)

Classicists at all levels have knowledge, experience, skills, and contacts that can usefully contribute to civic activism outside of academia proper.  The Classics & Social Justice Affiliated Group has organized a workshop on the subject of Classics and Civic Activism for the upcoming AIA/SCS meeting. We invite proposals for a lightning round on outward-facing activism in which presenters will spend 3 minutes sharing their own experiences and making recommendations. These presentations will become integral to discussions among participants during the following breakout sessions.

The lightning round is the second of three parts of the workshop:

1) Three featured presenters from Indivisible, the National Humanities Alliance, and the American Federation of Teachers will offer guidance in community organizing, engaging with representatives, and other advocacy work, specifically focusing on how academics and educators can combine their skills and expertise with activism.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:25am by Erik Shell.

The United States was more than a century old before it saw its first play staged in Latin. What follows is a story about its producers’ struggle for recognition and the external factors that doomed it to obscurity. Beyond a footnote in theatrical history, the 1877 production of a Jesuit Latin play at Boston College offers a glimpse into the fraught politics of education in the United States in the late 19th century, the origins of the modern college elective, and a form of Classical curriculum that might have been—if an ugly fight in Boston had turned out differently.

In April of 1894, Harvard’s production of its first Latin play had set Boston buzzing. The event  even rated a couple columns in the New York Times, which remarked:

Latin plays have been given in this country and in England, but never with the careful study of detail bestowed upon the Phormio of Terence, to be produced by Harvard students in Sanders Theatre this week… Educators from all parts of the country are expected to witness the production.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 07/18/2019 - 4:24pm by Christopher Polt.

Seneca 2020. International Conference

What more can we say about Seneca?

The Centre for Classical Studies of the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon is organizing an International Conference on Seneca to promote and encourage a critical reflection on the permanence of themes, values, perspectives and representations of Seneca’s works in Western literature and culture.

The Conference will take place between 14-17 December 2020, and, through the interdisciplinary debate of the contribution given by the experiences of researchers from different fields of study, it aims:

- to think of how Seneca became one of the most prominent figures in Western culture;

- to consider, examine and reflect on our current knowledge about Seneca, his life and works;

- to explore new study angles and what remains to be said about Seneca in the Twenty-First Century, in light of the renewed interest shown in his works.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers

António Pedro Mesquita (University of Lisbon)

Alessandro Schiesaro (University of Manchester)

Catharine Edwards (University of Cambridge)

Gareth David Williams (Columbia University)

Chiara Torre (University of Milan)

Jesús Luque Moreno (University of Granada)

José Pedro Serra (University of Lisbon)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 07/18/2019 - 2:54pm by Erik Shell.

“Performing Texts”
Network for the Study of Archaic and Classical Greek Song
6th Open Conference, July 1-5, 2020, Spetses, Greece

 

Gregory Nagy (Classics, Harvard University) announces the 6th Open Conference, which is organized by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC (CHS DC) on behalf of the Network for the Study of Archaic and Classical Greek Song. The organization of the Conference will be administratively and logistically supported by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Greece (CHS Greece).

The conference will take place on the island of Spetses in Greece from July 1 to July 5, 2020. The topic of the conference is "Performing Texts."

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 07/18/2019 - 11:03am by Erik Shell.

Justin Slocum Bailey will give a two-day series of workshops, BRINGING LATIN TO LIFE IN THE CLASSROOM, in Syracuse on Sept. 20-21, hosted by SU and generously supported by Binghamton University, Le Moyne College, The Humanities Corridor (and others).

Justin will help explore new and interactive techniques of Latin instruction. His pedagogy has proved to be very fruitful on all levels of Latin language classrooms (high school, college, etc.). Please consider attending and help spread the word.

Registration is $40 for one day, $75 for both: this will help cover a at least the lunches and refreshments. Students can attend for free. If the fee is an impediment to participation, we can offer a reduction.

Tina Chronopoulos (tchronop@binghamton.edu) and I will be happy to learn if you want to attend and to hear any suggestions.

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View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:20am by Erik Shell.

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