On the Humanities and Their Coherence

Recently, at the first, annual meeting of the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Louis Menand, Professor of American Studies at Harvard University, addressed attendees regarding “[w]hy the case for liberal education is so hard to make”:

Nowadays, everyone believes that “it’s good for people to be introduced to the humanities,” said Dr. Menand, but he highlighted a paradox: one of the difficulties in trying to make the case for the humanities is that the work of academics isn’t literature, art and music—rather, it is research about these works. Hermeneutics is hard to study and, because every interpretation is provisional, it is hard to defend.

He said the natural sciences have been able to reconfigure themselves to overcome the “silo” problem of different disciplines; but for a variety of reasons, the humanities haven’t. He pointed to the need for reform, acknowledging that “we’re right when we say that many reformers are not educational. But that is all the more reason for academics to take the task upon themselves to reform” (Berkowitz).

No doubt, as Dorothy Sayers argued, a subject- rather than method-centered approach to “liberal arts” has helped foster the humanities’ current dis-integration (“The Lost Tools of Learning”). Moreover, Thomas Kuhn’s work suggests that “the sciences” are not so very different from “the humanities” after all—both depending as they do on human subjects interpreting what they observe in the natural world (“Thomas Kuhn”). Whether and to what extent this dis-integrative trend reverses, however, only time will tell.

Waving Goodbye

In the past few weeks, I had thought of what might be a pedagogically helpful application for Google Wave. I had all but decided to experiment with it in a course assignment, but on Wednesday, Google announced that it would not “continue developing Wave as a standalone product” but would, over time, “extend the technology for use in other Google projects.” So, apparently, it is time to “wave” goodbye and wait to see what the next iteration of the technology holds.

Online Research in Biblical Studies

I have been asked to produce a resource for distance education students who may have more difficulty than on-campus students with accessing traditional research venues like the brick-and-mortar library. To that end, this blog now has an Online Research page, part of which subsumes and expands the old, Other Websites page. I have tried to highlight and link to many of the wonderful resources already available for distance education students who are doing biblical studies work, but if anyone has suggestions about other free-access resources that these students might find particularly useful, please do post them in the comments section here. The students who will use this page and I would be very grateful for these additions.

Want to Help SBL?

Take this survey about a new website that the Society of Biblical Literature is developing with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. According to today’s email announcement from the Society, the site is generally intended to function as a medium for making biblical scholarship more widely available and encouraging interaction with the biblical literature. So, if you might be interested in using such a site, head over to Survey Monkey, and give the Society your input.

Online Papers and Lectures

Michael Bird comments that the papers for next week’s Louven conference, “New Perspectives on Paul and the Jews,” are available for download. Of the presenters listed in the program, only Anne-Marie Reijnen’s paper on “Kosmos and Creation in Paul’s Thought” is not currently available.

Additionally, in the developing list of audio and video resources over at Evangelical Textual Criticism:

  • Tommy Wasserman mentions some audio and video material from Dan Wallace.
  • Mark Francois notes the availability of the video recordings of Stanley Porter’s 2008 Hayward Lectures. In addition, the Hayward Lectures webpage includes “[t]he majority of the [other] Hayward Lectures from 1981 to the present” as hosted by Blip.tv.

Little Bunny Fufu Meets the Maccabees

Sometimes, a bit of humor or oddity can be pedagogically advantageous. In this connection, I have tried to fit the chief, Maccabean figures into the chorus from “Little Bunny Fufu” (who may apparently appear, at least occasionally, as “Little Rabbit Fufu” in the UK) (midi audio, lyrics).

There is, of course, a little fudging in this adaptation:

  • The first mention of a John Hyrcanus and an Aristobulus should naturally be taken as implying “the first” in their denominations, just as the second mention should be taken as implying “the second.” Creativity failed me, however, when trying to think of a tune where these additional epithets could be included without making nuisances of themselves.
  • Two slightly different pronunciations of Aristobulus appear (see Tomasino 330).
  • At the end of the ditty, little bunny Fufu ends up having to pick up the field mice and bop them on the head once more in order to squeeze in Antigonus Mattathias.

Still, even with these caveats, a ditty like this one could prove to be a useful tool for helping students learn a basic framework for the Maccabean period’s chief figures. Those who are interested can download or listen to the recording in mp3 format.


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Anthony Tomasino
Anthony Tomasino