Task Force on the Future of the Humanities

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The humanities remain at the vital core of Princeton's mission, essential both to this University's commitment to scholarship that enables us to better understand the human condition and to its goal of providing students with an education that not only prepares them for satisfying vocations, but also forms and deepens them as individuals and as contributors to society. At a time when technology offers dazzling new possibilities and cultures collide in ways both exciting and dangerous, the humanities provide crucial insight into what matters in life, into the character of civilization, and into the capacity — and the limits — of people's ability to understand societies different from their own.

Yet, despite the urgent need for humanistic understanding in an era of rapid change and cultural disequilibrium, the humanities find themselves criticized at colleges and universities across the country because of budget cuts and calls for short-term accountability. These developments elsewhere make it all the more important that Princeton, where the place of the humanities is secure, play a leadership role in the future of the field, through both the scholarship that it generates and the students whom it educates.

To meet that challenge, the University will have to choose initiatives wisely. Over the last two decades, Princeton has invested heavily in infrastructure for the humanities, first with the renovation of East Pyne and Chancellor Green and then with the renovation of Firestone Library. Princeton has also created important new programs, including the fabulously successful Society of Fellows, the Center for African American Studies, and the interdisciplinary doctoral program in the humanities.

With the Firestone renovation past its midpoint and scheduled to conclude in 2018, and with Green Hall projected to be used for the humanities in the future, the time has come to consider the needs, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Numerous possibilities for investment have been mentioned, including media studies, a humanities center, new programs in cultural or area studies, or simply more support for existing programs or departments. The University cannot pursue all of these possibilities, and it will be essential to prioritize goals so that Princeton's initiatives in the humanities are both successful and significant.

To that end, we would like the committee to answer the following questions:

  1. What are Princeton's strengths and weaknesses in the humanities? How do Princeton's programs compare to those at peer institutions?
  2. What are the most important trends, challenges, and opportunities affecting the humanities today, and how should Princeton respond to them?
  3. How do the departments and programs in the humanities currently collaborate with the Lewis Center for the Arts? With the Princeton Art Museum? With the Princeton Library? With international initiatives? Is there untapped potential in some of these collaborations?
  4. What are the highest priority initiatives that Princeton should undertake to extend its leadership in the humanities and education? To what extent does Princeton have opportunities to reallocate existing resources to supplement any new investments it might make on behalf of these initiatives?
  5. How best can Princeton ensure the excellence and impact of its undergraduate and graduate teaching programs in the humanities?
  6. How should Princeton define and evaluate the success of its initiatives in the humanities?



  • Denis Feeney, Chair, Council of the Humanities; Giger Professor of Latin; Professor of Classics; Director, Program in Humanistic Studies; Director, Stewart Seminars in Religion

Faculty members

  • Göran Blix, Associate Professor of French and Italian
  • Scott Burnham, Scheide Professor of Music History; Professor of Music
  • Anne Cheng, Professor of English and African American Studies
  • Rachael DeLue, Associate Professor of Art and Archaeology
  • Michael Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History; Professor of History
  • AnneMarie Luijendijk, Professor of Religion; Chair, Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity
  • Alexander Nehamas, Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities; Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature

Staff members

  • Kathleen Crown, Executive Director, Council of the Humanities (secretary)
  • Toni Turano, Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty, Office of the Dean of the Faculty