These are troubling days for the humanities. In response, a recent proliferation of works defending the humanities has emerged. But, taken together, what are these works really saying, and how persuasive do they prove? The Battle of the Classics: How a Nineteenth-Century Debate Can Save the Humanities Today (Oxford UP, 2020) demonstrates the crucial downsides of contemporary apologetics for the humanities and presents in its place a historically informed case for a different approach to rescuing the humanistic disciplines in higher education. It reopens the passionate debates about the classics that took place in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America as a springboard for crafting a novel foundation for the humanistic tradition.
Eric Adler demonstrates that current defenses of the humanities rely on the humanistic disciplines as inculcators of certain poorly defined skills such as "critical thinking." It criticizes this conventional approach, contending that humanists cannot hope to save their disciplines without arguing in favor of particular humanities content. As the uninspired defenses of the classical humanities in the late nineteenth century prove, instrumental apologetics are bound to fail. All the same, the book shows that proponents of the Great Books favor a curriculum that is too intellectually narrow for the twenty-first century. The Battle of the Classics thus lays out a substance-based approach to undergraduate education that will revive the humanities, even as it steers clear of overreliance on the Western canon. The book envisions a global humanities based on the examination of masterworks from manifold cultures as the heart of an intellectually and morally sound education.
Eric Adler is a Professor of Classics at the University of Maryland. Adler's scholarly interests include Roman historiography, Latin prose, the history of classical scholarship, and the history of the humanities.
Morteza Hajizadeh is a Ph.D. graduate in English from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research interests are Cultural Studies; Critical Theory; Environmental History; Medieval (Intellectual) History; Gothic Studies; 18th and 19th Century British Literature. YouTube Channel. Twitter.