Session Description

Session 599 (#s599), Saturday, 11 January, 3:30-4:45 p.m.

How can humanities programs better equip students for a wider range of careers, without sacrificing the core values or approaches of the disciplines? While not new, the question becomes more urgent as public funding for the humanities shrinks and the proportion of contingent faculty grows. Rather than see these pressures as threats, however, many programs see in them an opportunity to develop vibrant programs that take a broader view of possible methodological approaches, research products, and desirable career outcomes.

The participants in this proposed roundtable are all members of the Praxis Network, a new international partnership of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in the traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research. They represent programs that are embarking upon collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to humanities education.

The Praxis Network features graduate programs at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, CUNY Graduate Center, University College London, and Duke University, as well as undergraduate programs at Hope College and Brock University. By bringing together a collection of diverse programs that all aspire to similar goals of increasing the effectiveness of humanities educational practices and making their methodologies more widely applicable, we hope to spark ideas among institutions that are exploring similar initiatives. Each roundtable participant will give brief remarks to introduce their program, leaving substantial time for broader discussion and questions.

The partnership is one of three complementary projects in the Scholarly Communication Institute’s latest work on rethinking graduate education. A recent SCI study on the level of career preparation provided by graduate programs makes it clear that most graduates and their employers find that they do not gain many of the skills that are important in their professional environments—such as collaboration, project management, and communication with varied audiences—through their graduate programs. The Praxis Network provides a closer look at select programs that have taken unusual and effective approaches to addressing some of the issues that the survey uncovered.

Beyond preparing students for a broader range of careers, the Praxis Network programs also provide excellent models for the relevance of humanities scholarship in a changing public landscape. With federal and state funding for higher education facing tremendous pressure, making humanities scholarship meaningful to a much broader audience is critical. Fortunately, scholarly work is becoming increasingly available to a broader and less specialized public, whether through open-access journals, via blogs and personal websites, or as standalone digital projects. The programs in the Praxis Network address these two trends by encouraging students to develop public-facing projects that are accessible to non-specialists, without sacrificing disciplinary rigor. In fact, the students’ research output shows that encouraging students to think critically about their intended audience helps them to better grasp not only what is appropriate for the general public, but also what matters to their academic peers.

Humanities programs have the opportunity to better serve their students as well as the public by examining our core values and rethinking the methods we use to teach them. Increased public engagement is not only valuable to general audiences, but also healthy for academic disciplines and for individual graduates. Still, a great deal of work remains before humanities departments will commonly evaluate their success through outcomes other than tenure-track job placement. For wide-scale change to be possible, programs must find it valuable to equip students for varied careers in universities, libraries, cultural heritage organizations, non-profits, government offices, and more.

The programs in the Praxis Network show the tremendous potential of encouraging students to approach humanistic inquiry in new ways as the discipline moves toward embracing increased collaboration, meaningful public engagement, and an ethos of openness and exploration. Bringing together representatives of each program in a roundtable discussion will provide a fruitful opportunity for others in the humanities community to learn about the developments, to ask questions relevant to the goals and directions of their own institutions, and to spark new ideas for growth and change.

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