The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age: An NLH Forum

On September 24, Merve Emre will join authors Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon in an NLH Forum on Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Ages, just out from the University of Chicago Press. The Forum will be held on Zoom, with details and link forthcoming.

The humanities, considered by many as irrelevant for modern careers and hopelessly devoid of funding, seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis, at the mercy of modernizing and technological forces that are driving universities towards academic pursuits that pull in grant money and direct students to lucrative careers. But as Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon show, this crisis isn’t new—in fact, it’s as old as the humanities themselves. 

Today’s humanities scholars experience and react to basic pressures in ways that are strikingly similar to their nineteenth-century German counterparts. The humanities came into their own as scholars framed their work as a unique resource for resolving crises of meaning and value that threatened other cultural or social goods. The self-understanding of the modern humanities didn’t merely take shape in response to a perceived crisis; it also made crisis a core part of its project. Through this critical, historical perspective, Permanent Crisis can take scholars and anyone who cares about the humanities beyond the usual scolding, exhorting, and hand-wringing into clearer, more effective thinking about the fate of the humanities. Building on ideas from Max Weber and Friedrich Nietzsche to Helen Small and Danielle Allen, Reitter and Wellmon dig into the very idea of the humanities as a way to find meaning and coherence in the world.

Paul Reitter is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the Ohio State University and author most recently of Bambi’s Jewish Roots: Essays on German-Jewish Culture(Bloomsbury, 2015). Chad Wellmon is Professor of German Studies, with appointments in History and Media Studies, at the University of Virginia and author of Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University (Johns Hopkins, 2016). Merve Emre is associate professor of English at the University of Oxford and the author of The Personality Brokers (Doubleday, 2018), selected as one of the best books of 2018 by the New York Times, the Economist, NPR, CBC, and the Spectator, and adapted for CNN/HBO Max as the documentary feature film Persona.