On September 12, 2018, Drew Gilpin Faust – historian, former Harvard University president and author of the Bancroft Prize-winning book “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” – accepted the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity.
In her acceptance speech, she made an impassioned case for the study of the humanities.
It has been the unique role of the university both to serve the immediate and urgent present and at the same time to look beyond it, to pose larger questions of meaning; not just to propel us towards our goals but to ask what those goals should be; to understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going, and why.
Yet we find ourselves in a time when the value and legitimacy of these questions and of the fields that embody them are being criticized, weakened, marginalized. Increasingly, education is seen as instrumental. We expect it to provide a direct path to a specific job.
We fail to ask how it will produce a thoughtful citizen or a person who can imagine beyond the moment in which we find ourselves, to see and build the changing world ahead. Or how it can build a leader who can begin to address the profound impact of our extraordinary technological advances on our culture, our society, and our very understanding of what it is to be human. We see the results of this neglect all around us.
Watch the whole ceremony, including Faust’s speech, here: