Last Wednesday, Homi K. Bhabha, Professor of English at Harvard, visited Colby as an advocate for the college’s new initiative to develop a humanities center. The proposed center has support from the prestigious Mellon Foundation and, if approved, will launch next year. Bhabha, a postcolonial literary and cultural theorist, participated in a roundtable discussion with students and faculty moderators in the afternoon, and delivered a lecture on the fate of the humanities in the evening.
I have learned from discussions with my professors both within and outside of the classroom that Colby’s interest in starting a humanities center is part of a larger college-wide conversation on the role of humanities disciplines at Colby and beyond. Earlier in the year, for example, Colby hosted Amherst Professor Arthur Zajonc, who is actually a physicist, to present one opinion on the role of the humanities in higher education; his theory supported compassion and sensibility in humanities programs, and hoped that this type of education could lead to civic action. Bhabha’s argument was different and, I’d say, more compelling in its insistence that individuals recognize the centrality of the humanities in college education. On Wednesday, he stated the harsh fact that funding allocated for research in the sciences constitutes 46 times the amount that is allocated to research in the humanities. Bhabha rightfully argued that this discrepancy constitutes a major crisis in the humanities, and that such a crisis is, in fact, representative of a global crisis in civility. That is, because language allows us to both create the content of culture and critique that culture, societies that devalue the humanities risk barbarism.
Bhabha’s lecture, then, stressed the importance of developing a campus community that both nurtures the humanities and, in classic postcolonial fashion, also considers the widespread benefits that can be wrought if we recognize the position of the humanities as central to our learning, and refuse to let it continue to exist on the periphery. I have not been more excited about any Colby initiative in my multiple semesters here. I look forward to doing all that I can to help make the humanities center and its related programming a success at Colby, and I am confident that Bhabha was correct in his assertion that Colby is the perfect place from which to develop and cultivate such a center and, more generally, humanities programming.