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Biomedicine in museums

Medical humanities and medical museums — where are we heading?

By December 3, 0001No Comments

I’ve been reading some of the reception to Toby Miller’s recent Blow Up the Humanities. In summary, Miller suggests that the today humanities (at least in the US, but in principle everywhere) is divided into two kinds.

Humanities One is the good old traditional humanities: history and philosophy, literary and art history, the classics, etc. as we know them from good old humanities faculties around the world. Professors discussing Shakespeare, Hegel, and Kierkegaard with students for personal enjoyment and edification.

Humanities One are deep and probing but hardly useful on the current job market. Maybe that’s reason why student enrolment has diminished significantly over the lat decades.

Humanities Two on the other hand is all those new kinds of ‘humanities’ — cultural studies, media studies, material and visual culture, film studies, queer studies, communication, video game research, etc. and humanities courses in other programmes, like business — that draw lots of student, but are pretty shallow and primarily focused on providing skills for the private job market.

In a US context, Miller suggests, the division between Humanities One and Humanities Two mirrors the economic and cultural class division between private universities and state schools, which focus mainly on job prospects. If he had chosen Denmark as his case, he would probably have pointed to the difference between the Faculty of Humanities at the venerable University of Copenhagen and the short, flexible and market-oriented humanities programmes at the suburbian Roskilde University or the courses at the Copenhagen Business School.

The point is not that the one is better than the other, but that neither is what is needed today. Miller wants to blow up the division between them. In order to survive and succeed in producing a concerned citizenry, Miller wants restructure the humanities into a hybrid form: we need both the methodological depth of the old humanities, and the political and cultural urgency of the new ones.


Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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