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Through The saLLyporT Through The saLLyporT
our world changes when
our worldview changes.
and humanities scholars
do the research that
Science Tweaks,
alters those views.
Humanities

— gary Wihl
Transform the World
Almost daily, we see news of major Where would we be as a society without the
discoveries in medicine, the science of our
work of the humanities?
planet and the stars, or the human genome.
We don’t have to read the voluminous articles
The public is conditioned to expect a steady
in scholarly journals or the books published by
stream of stories on science, technology, and
university presses to be affected. The work done
health because the idea of discovery goes
by humanists seeps into the popular culture and
hand in hand with the idea of something
alters our world—the world most of us inhabit
“new”—a better treatment for HIV, the
on a daily basis—far more significantly than the
manufacturing of nano materials at the mo-
discovery of a new star or new software. Indeed,
lecular level, development of genetically en-
the great majority of scientific discoveries are
gineered foods, the potential of stem cells to
incomplete and tentative, only possible pieces of
generate organ replacement. Newspapers and
a puzzle that someday may or may not fit to-
magazines devote whole sections to science
gether. The discoveries of the humanities—that
and medical news. And these discoveries are
is, ideas—often arrive complete and compelling,
indeed important.
transforming the picture on the puzzle box.
Our world changes when our worldview
Overlooked, however, are discoveries that
changes. And humanities scholars do the re-
have shaped our lives and the world in which
search that alters those views. They test ideas
we live far more profoundly than a potentially
for their sources, profundity, articulation, and
better treatment for a particular disease or an
coherence. Their work provides the in-depth
improved understanding of a gene’s function.
While a great deal of minor understanding of the issues that underlie—or
These are the discoveries in the humanities. research in the sciences
should underlie—virtually every major political
and cultural decision facing our society.
is celebrated, much
The structures of Western society—
everything from our systems of commerce
pathbreaking research in the
Yet outside of the academy itself, the research
to our systems of government—are products
humanities remains invisible
done in the humanities is rarely even acknowl-
of humanist exploration. Adam Smith was a
edged as research.
to the public.
professor of moral philosophy. And the very —g ary Wihl
existence of the United States is owed to the
(I wince when people talk about “research” in
“discovery” of the natural rights of man, the
the sciences and “cultural enrichment” in the
changing notion of what government means, gious definitions of the nature of being human,
humanities.) While a great deal of minor re-
and the underlying philosophies of freedom and more recently scholars in feminist, gender,
search in the sciences is celebrated, much path-
and responsibility now so taken for granted as and queer studies. The recent decision of the Su-
breaking research in the humanities remains
to be like the air to most Americans. preme Court affirming the dignity and privacy of
invisible to the public. It is past time to recog-
Indeed, our very notion of what would homosexuals was influenced by the research done
nize that science does not have sole purchase
seem fundamental—the nature of men and by humanists on the history of homosexuality
on “research” and to acknowledge the truly
women—has changed profoundly over the in the U.S. Those who celebrate and those who
profound significance of the research done in
last centuries, even the last decades, as a result deplore the decision agree on one thing: it alters
the humanities.
of those humanists who challenged the reli- our society irrevocably.
—gary Wihl, dean of the school of humanities
Winter ’04 13
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