CTSS Preview: George Saunders, why the humanities still matter

    In a time when newspaper reporter is ranked the 200th most desirable job out of 200, I couldn’t be better equipped to enter the professional world majoring in Journalism and hopefully Creative Writing. On this recently released survey, careercast.com listed newspaper reporter behind garbage collector, janitor and lumberjack. But whatever I do, and it may not be journalism and certainly will not be chopping wood, I know how to think as a result of the classes I’ve taken and the subjects that I’ve studied.

    Tomorrow evening, George Saunders will come and speak about the value of a university education in these modern times. Saunders is one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year, but his influence has nothing to do with the digital age or epigenetic research. His work is humanities, pure and simple. I hope that tomorrow evening George Saunders will try to answer a question that's essential when contemplating the majors I've chosen and a career trajectory that's seen as less desirable than even driving a bus:

    In our data-driven society, why do the humanities still matter?

    In my mind, the answer is simple.

    The humanities teach us how to learn and think. They show us how to synthesize information and develop arguments that are intelligible and coherent. They show us how to write. And that skill above all others is essential in many aspects of work and life.

    A thesis or even one of those short responses that we all grind out for English classes may seem pointless and entirely unrelated to endeavors in areas outside the sometimes stuffy world of Academia or Literature. But again, they’re not. They challenge students to engage with a wide array of subjects, and ask the simple questions necessary to craft informed opinions about whatever those subject might be.

    Having an active mind – what making informed opinions is all about – starts with the quest for clarity amongst the dearth of information flowing across our Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines and Reddit threads. They pull our attention in so many different directions. Simply digesting them without room for inquiry or curiosity is pointless. But contemplating all the content out there, from a position of this strong background in the humanities, means that our minds can craft some order to the mess of information that we consume.

    The skill of creating that structure, which might be in the form of an argument or a thesis, or just in a well-crafted email to a prospective employer, comes from years of slogging through outlines and research papers on subjects like Victorian Literature or Modern Chinese History. Those topics might not seem too important or even relevant to our future careers, but the process they force us to sweat through is essential. Like a baseball player taking cuts in the batting cage for hours on end, we must constantly be honing this ability to digest, analyze, and then to regurgitate information in a clear and concise way. That's what the humanities give us. 

    And that's why they still matter.


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