False Perceptions About the Humanities

Many people have false perceptions about the humanities, writes Aaron Hanlon, assistant professor of English at Colby College. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Hanlon highlights the four main misperceptions that individuals have regarding scholarship and teaching in humanistic fields. The list of misinformed opinions includes: “The humanities are noncognitive,” or the perception that humanistic fields do not require problem solving or analytical skills; “The humanities and social sciences are overrun by ideology,” or mistaking fraudulent work in social sciences for humanities research and accusing humanities scholars of using unfalsifiable methods; “Humanities professors push left-wing ideas on students,” or believing that humanities teachers encourage their students to adopt more liberal viewpoints and attitudes; and, “The humanities are ornamental,” or thinking that a literature scholar can only judge how “good” a piece of writing is and nothing more. “I don’t know how to solve this problem other than to encourage colleagues from across the disciplines, as well as the journalists who cover us and give us platforms, to cease tolerating misrepresentation,” Hanlon writes. “When you malign and misrepresent what scholars do, you’re punishing students.”