A timely article on how essential the humanities are to the advancement of society. That said, the author describes some great examples of how these disciplines are applied in creative and pragmatic ways. At the same time, she articulates the case for a serious need to re-boot the discipline as it’s taught today.

If your college-bound teen boldly announces plans to study poetry, philosophy, or art history next fall, don’t panic. All around the country, forward-leaning professors are breathing digital life into the ancient practice of interpreting art and culture. Along the way, they are trying to diminish the parental fear of ending up with a college-grad-turned-barista living in your basement.

Consider a recent PhD candidate at the University of Iowa who used data modeling and visualization software to analyze emotion in the works of Cicero. At the heart of the work was an attempt to visualize patterns in the language Cicero would use with various groups of friends. These sorts of efforts not only bring students and researchers closer to the classics, but also offer them practical skills for understanding how to use sophisticated software that might help them in a range of jobs.

Projects like these use technology to do what the humanities have always done: contemplate the ways — sometimes disturbing ways — in which human beings experience one another and the world. “If there are ways to embrace technology in teaching, you’d be hard pressed to a find a discipline stronger than the humanities,” says Sharon Marcus, a former dean of humanities at Columbia who is on leave this year at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. […]