Melancholy in the Midst of Abundance: How America Invented the Humanities

Geoffrey Galt Harpham

in The Humanities and the Dream of America

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780226316970
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226317014 | DOI:
Melancholy in the Midst of Abundance: How America Invented the Humanities

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An active interest in the humanities was the culmination of and reward for successful nation-building. The goal toward which the entire nation strove, therefore, was a state of tranquility in which immediate needs had been met, internal opposition calmed, and external threats held at bay—a society whose citizens might explore at leisure the record of the past, seek fulfillment on their own terms, and enjoy in a disinterested spirit the pleasures of the arts. A society comprising individuals who both value their own lives and have the capacity to value the lives of others will in all probability be more creative, dynamic, and responsible than a society of managers, technicians, and engineers, as valuable as those professions are. It is in the humanities classroom that students are inspired, that the emotions as well as the rational intellect are engaged, that abstract values are shown being tested in action; and it is in the historical and literary texts studied in the humanities that students encounter instructive images of mastery and wisdom. The humanities sustain this second conception of individuality, as deeply rooted as the other in cultural inheritance.

Keywords: humanities; nation building; society; individuality; cultural inheritance

Chapter.  15999 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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