Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

History as the Basis of the Humanities

Krishan Kumar.

The humanities currently face a crisis for a number of reasons - one being their assumed irrelevance in a era dominated by the concerns of science, technology and economic development. But another reason has to do with their fragmentation, caused partly by increasingly rigid disciplinary boundaries in the academy and the requirements of specialized research. This means not only that the practioners are unaware of each other's work - even where it may be highly relevant - but also that they lack a suitable mode of communicating their thinking to a wider public beyond their own professional community.

An earlier solution to this problem had been to conceive of a broad canon of works, drawn from the "the best that has been thought and said" (Matthew Arnold), which could be shared by all educated people in the community. For various reasons this is not so easy to defend now (though I think, differently formulated, it can be). My proposal is that we consider history as the unifying principle in the humanities. I want to argue that all (or most) of the humanities should be seen as bound together by the adoption of an historical approach, and that the humanities collectively, in contradistinction to the natural sciences, should be regarded as the "historical sciences" (not, as has alternatively been put, the "moral" or the "human" sciences). I shall illustrate this with examples drawn from some of my own work on nationalism.


Krishan Kumar  (United States)
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
University of Virginia

Krishan Kumar is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. He was previously Professor of Social and Political Thought at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Cambridge and his postgraduate education at the London School of Economics.

Prof. Kumar has at various times been a Talks Producer at the BBC, a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, and has held Visiting Professorships at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Central European University, Prague, the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Among his publications are: Prophecy and Progress: The Sociology of Industrial and Post-Industrial Society; Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times; The Rise of Modern Society; From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society; 1989: Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals; The Making of English National Identity.

Prof. Kumar's current interests focus on nationalism and national identity. Related research involves work on European identity in the context of transnational migration and challenges to the Nation-state. He is also preparing a study of current approaches to historical sociology.


(Plenary Session Speaker, English)