In the humanities, we concern ourselves with everything human, what human beings have thought, written, made and done in all times, places and cultures. That we "call" the ongoing archive of human existence philosophy, literature, art, religion, or history is no doubt less important than that we find in what other human beings have done potential models for what to do, or not do.
Those skills we teach -- reading closely, observing critically, thinking logically and analytically, researching methodically, and writing clearly and persuasively -- are not the skills of a single job. We prepare you for much more than that. These are practical skills that can be readily applied to any number of careers, including many that the future has yet to create.
But the humanities also prepare you for all the other things that happen to us in life, things that truly matter, such as love, beauty, the challenges of leadership, the richness of human experience, the courage to think for oneself and the ability to follow those paths less traveled.Recently, there have been many discussions questioning the relevancy of a humanities education. In an interesting departure from this notion, a panel of our humanities students recently fielded questions about job prospects and outcomes from admitted students and their parents trying to decide between enrolling at UC Irvine and other schools. Our students steadfastly and energetically insisted on the irredeemably practical dimension of their humanities education here.
This wasn't just the usual invocation of "portable skills" and preparation for becoming "global citizens," but something a bit different, and arguably more exciting. Rather, the insistence was on the directly useful and applicable competencies their humanities education at UC Irvine had provided in terms of the ability to think, interpret, analyze, do archival research, parse data for what's meaningful and what's not, create, communicate and translate across a variety of media and circumstances in the extraordinarily precarious and fast-changing environment of our times.
For decades now, UC Irvine has been a primary international destination for the humanities, attracting top faculty and students to the most vibrant intellectual community on the American West Coast.I have often enjoyed and appreciated the excitement of Irvine Humanities since the early 1980’s. I remained, then and today, ever amazed by the passion of intellectual engagement, the inspirational levels of academic achievement, and the relentless capacity to chart new directions and reset the boundaries for the enterprise we call the humanities.
To the extent that the humanities, true to the name, encompass everything human beings think and do (including thinking what lies beyond the human), our school locates itself at and as the fundamental core of the university.
Literally flanked by the natural and social sciences, we bisect the line between engineering and the arts while offering the best (career) paths to law and medicine. Our exciting campus cross-collaboration ventures are taking UC Irvine into exciting, unchartered territory as we explore the limitless avenues of the humanities education.
Not only do we engage the totality of the university within the critical, cultural and historical axes of our research, but our teaching and scholarship also urges us onto the unending task of bettering who we are -- individually, collectively, institutionally. Indeed, this is what the comparative form of the classic expression studi humaniores implies. However we define betterment, it most certainly cannot be limited to mere fiscal and technological improvement. Rather, the contemporary buzz of terms like “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” mean little in the absence of that fearless soul-searching the humanities prescribe, so that we can better understand who we are, how we came to be who we are, and the as yet unimagined ways we might be tomorrow. That is the task of the humanities.
I welcome and indeed encourage you to embark on this journey with us and thank you for visiting the UC Irvine School of Humanities.
Georges Van Den Abbeele
Dean, School of Humanities