kentstateDuring the Italian Renaissance, the study of literature was designed to offer the reader moral instruction as well as delight and diversion. History—in particular exemplary, ancient history—was a repository of philosophical guidance and subjects worthy of emulation. History, biography, and epic offered the reader lessons on how to live a worthy life.

This kind of education endured for centuries in the western tradition until the mid- to late-19th century, when new scientific rigor and the educational requirements of the modern professions called into question moral formation as the goal of education. The humanities still held pride of place in the liberal arts curriculum throughout much of the 20th century, until “The Crisis in the Humanities”. While college attendance boomed after the All Posts1960s, humanities enrollments dropped. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch revealed how the recent recession has continued that decline.

For many, arguments in defense of the study of human culture have frequently taken the form of “we know that we know that we know” how important the humanities are. But critics who see the humanities as curricular indulgence have remained unconvinced. Within the last 15 years however, a revived interest in the developmental potential of humanities disciplines has emerged as part of the neuroscience revolution. With new tools for the study of the brain, scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences have begun to demonstrate the power of the humanities to create a better mind. Much of the most recent, welcomed attention, has been paid to compelling work of psychologists and literary scholars who have demonstrated how reading can support cognitive-social development and moral intelligence.

In recognition of this important trend, Ohio Humanities is pleased to support a major international conference, “Why the Humanities: Answers from the Cognitive and Neurosciences”, presented by Kent State University (KSU), July 9-11. The conference’s lead organizer, KSU English Department professor Mark Bracher, has, with the help of an interdisciplinary research team, created an exciting lineup of scholars and related plenary sessions that will present recent findings and new avenues of inquiry on the value of the humanities in the creation of the mind.

One of the primary goals is making this research relevant for K-12 teachers. Registered teachers can receive continuing education credit for attending the conference.

Complete information on the conference can be found here.

Conference Schedule can be found here.

— Rob Colby, OH Program Officer