A Victorian Defense of the Humanities for the Twenty-First Century
Much like the twenty-first century, the nineteenth century in Britain seemed a whirlwind of economic opportunity and displacement and offered a cornucopia of new things to peddle and consume. And like today, as knowledge expanded and became more specialized, as science seemed to offer the truest wisdom, and as society emphasized profit and competition intensified, people questioned the value of studying the liberal arts, and particularly of studying the Classics. Opponents of humanistic learning argued, above all, that the Classics were no longer useful. I hope to take a close look at the nineteenth-century arguments both for and against the Classics, since these arguments are marvellously instructive and, I would argue, perfectly applicable today.
It is remarkable that thinkers as different (and even antipathetic towards each other) as Newman and Swinburne came to the defense of liberal and particularly classical education. Such odd coalitions, however, suggest one of the most persuasive arguments for the study of Greco-Roman antiquity, namely, that these texts address, and virtually compel their readers to address, fundamental questions about why we are here and how we should lead our lives. And it was precisely in the nineteenth century, when the British were intent on business and profit, and on the knowledge and innovations that contribute to material well-being, that an education in more than the acquisition of money seemed to some most essential. Today is no different.
Joseph Walsh (United States)
Associate Professor, Classics & History
Departments of Classics and History
Loyola College in Maryland
Joseph Walsh is Associate Professor of Classics and History at Loyola College in Maryland (US), has published articles on the classical tradition and on ancient history, and is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, the American School of Classics Studies in Athens, and the DAAD.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)