Paul Reitter and Chad WellmonMar 14, 2022
The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age
University of Chicago Press 2021
The humanities, considered by many as irrelevant for modern careers and hopelessly devoid of funding, seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis, at the mercy of modernizing and technological forces that are driving universities towards academic pursuits that pull in grant money and direct students to lucrative careers. But as Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon show in Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age (U Chicago Press, 2021), this crisis isn’t new—in fact, it’s as old as the humanities themselves.
Today’s humanities scholars experience and react to basic pressures in ways that are strikingly similar to their nineteenth-century German counterparts. The humanities came into their own as scholars framed their work as a unique resource for resolving crises of meaning and value that threatened other cultural or social goods. The self-understanding of the modern humanities didn’t merely take shape in response to a perceived crisis; it also made crisis a core part of its project. Through this critical, historical perspective, Permanent Crisis can take scholars and anyone who cares about the humanities beyond the usual scolding, exhorting, and hand-wringing into clearer, more effective thinking about the fate of the humanities. Building on ideas from Max Weber and Friedrich Nietzsche to Helen Small and Danielle Allen, Reitter and Wellmon dig into the very idea of the humanities as a way to find meaning and coherence in the world.
Paul Reitter is professor of Germanic languages and literatures at the Ohio State University. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siecle Europe.
Chad Wellmon is professor of German studies and history at the University of Virginia. He is the author and editor of many books, The Rise of the Research University: A Sourcebook and Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University.
Alexandra Ortolja-Baird is Lecturer in Digital History and Culture at the University of Portsmouth. She tweets at @timetravelallie.