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Posts Tagged ‘Humanities’

Cornel West and Robert P. George Discuss the Liberal Arts

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Books, Ethics, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Liberalism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Politics, Scholarship, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on January 4, 2017 at 6:45 am

Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Robert P. George discussed the purpose of a liberal arts education at a forum of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, November 30, 2016.  AEI Visiting Fellow Ramesh Ponnuru moderated the discussion, which appears in the video below.


Why Read? An Interview With Mark Edmundson

In Academia, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Creativity, Fiction, Historicism, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Rhetoric, Scholarship, Teaching, The Academy, The Novel, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on October 5, 2016 at 6:45 am

In the following C-SPAN Booknotes interview, Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia discusses books, readings, the liberal arts, and more.

Paul H. Fry’s “The New Criticism and Other Western Formalisms”

In Academia, American History, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, Communication, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Poetry, Rhetoric, Scholarship, The Academy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on May 28, 2014 at 8:45 am

Below is the sixth installment in the lecture series on literary theory and criticism by Paul H. Fry.  The three two lectures are here, here, here, here, and here.

Paul H. Fry’s “The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork”

In Academia, American Literature, Art, Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Creativity, Essays, Fiction, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Scholarship, Teaching, The Academy, Western Philosophy, Writing on May 21, 2014 at 8:45 am

Below is the fifth installment in the lecture series on literary theory and criticism by Paul H. Fry.  The three two lectures are here, here, here, and here.

What Crisis? Law as the Marriage of Science and the Humanities

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, News and Current Events, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Philosophy, Scholarship, The Academy on March 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

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This week the Association for the Study of Law, Culture & the Humanities convened to consider this question: “How will law and humanities scholarship fare against the pressure of the science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia?”  The question implies an adversarial relationship between science and the humanities, or law-and-humanities.  The division between science and the humanities as academic disciplines, however, is not yet 150 years old; it is misguided to pit “law-and-humanities” (a signifier that did not exist a few decades ago) against the “science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia” (another quotation from the conference program).  We do not have to go back to Plato or Aristotle or Galileo or Descartes or Spinoza or Da Vinci or Locke or Hume or Rousseau or Kant or Newton or Adam Smith or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or Thoreau to see that what we call the humanities has not, traditionally, been divorced from the sciences—that, in fact, the humanities and the sciences are mutually illuminating, not mutually exclusive.

In America, more recently, the classical pragmatists—in particular C.S. Peirce and William James—sought to make philosophy more scientific, and in this endeavor they were mimicking the logical positivists in Britain.  Some of the most famous minds of the 20th century worked at the intersection of the humanities and science: Freud, Einstein, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Jacques Lacan, F. A. Hayek, and Noam Chomsky, to name a few.  Lately we have seen scientific thinkers as wide-ranging as Steven Pinker, E. O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and Leon Kass celebrate or draw from the humanities.

A review of the conference abstracts suggests that most presenters will be considering this question from the political left, but their concerns are shared by many on the right, such as Roger Scruton, who recently took to the pages of The New Atlantis to address this topic in his article “Scientism in the Arts and Humanities.”  Nevertheless, forcing the separation of science and the humanities does not strike me as prudent.

By encouraging the humanities to recognize its scientific heritage and to recover its scientific methodologies, the academy would be correcting decades of wandering.  Science is indispensable to the humanities, and vice versa; the two work in concert.  The findings in one influence the findings in the other.  Evidence of this reciprocity in the context of legal studies is especially striking in America during the late 19th and early 20th century, when the law often was associated with scientific disciplines rather than with the humanities.  At this time, the theories of Charles Darwin and his progeny helped to explain the common law tradition while influencing the way that law was taught in law schools and examined by judges and most notably by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The scientific paradigms in vogue among legal thinkers at the turn of that century were neither uniform nor monolithic.  For instance, Christopher Columbus Langdell’s push to make legal education more scientific was different from Holmes’s use of Darwinism to describe the common law.  Rather than teasing out the distinctions between various scientific approaches to the law during the late 19th and early 20th century America, however, I would look at these scientific approaches as part of the same general project and as a reminder of how the humanities and the sciences can participate to bring about theoretical and practical insights.  It might be that, of all disciplines, law is the most revealing of the participatory nature of science and the humanities and, therefore, provides the best justification for instrumental and scientific approaches to humane studies.

There are groups within the humanities that resent the scientific disciplines for the funding and privilege those disciplines enjoy in the academic marketplace, but at least part of this resentment is misplaced.  The fault lies partially with the scientists who mistake merit for value: it is not that the sciences enjoy more funding and privilege because they have more merit—the academy is not a meritocracy—but it is that they have more value to consumers and the public writ large.  It may well be that the humanities have more merit, but unless consumers begin to value merit, the meritorious will not necessarily prevail in the market.  

Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Books, Economics, Emerson, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Imagination, Justice, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Novels, Philosophy, Politics, Property, Rhetoric, Shakespeare, The Novel, Transnational Law, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on November 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

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My forthcoming book, Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism, is now available for pre-order here at or here at Rowman & Littlefield’s website.  From the cover:

The economic theories of Karl Marx and his disciples continue to be anthologized in books of literary theory and criticism and taught in humanities classrooms to the exclusion of other, competing economic paradigms. Marxism is collectivist, predictable, monolithic, impersonal, linear, reductive — in short, wholly inadequate as an instrument for good in an era when we know better than to reduce the variety of human experience to simplistic formulae. A person’s creative and intellectual energies are never completely the products of culture or class. People are rational agents who choose between different courses of action based on their reason, knowledge, and experience. A person’s choices affect lives, circumstances, and communities. Even literary scholars who reject pure Marxism are still motivated by it, because nearly all economic literary theory derives from Marxism or advocates for vast economic interventionism as a solution to social problems.

Such interventionism, however, has a track-record of mass murder, war, taxation, colonization, pollution, imprisonment, espionage, and enslavement — things most scholars of imaginative literature deplore. Yet most scholars of imaginative literature remain interventionists. Literature and Liberty offers these scholars an alternative economic paradigm, one that over the course of human history has eliminated more generic bads than any other system. It argues that free market or libertarian literary theory is more humane than any variety of Marxism or interventionism. Just as Marxist historiography can be identified in the use of structuralism and materialist literary theory, so should free-market libertarianism be identifiable in all sorts of literary theory. Literature and Liberty disrupts the near monopolistic control of economic ideas in literary studies and offers a new mode of thinking for those who believe that arts and literature should play a role in discussions about law, politics, government, and economics. Drawing from authors as wide-ranging as Emerson, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry Hazlitt, and Mark Twain, Literature and Liberty is a significant contribution to libertarianism and literary studies.

The Law Review Model as a Check against Bias?

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Essays, Humanities, Law, Scholarship, Writing on October 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

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A version of this essay appeared in Academic Questions.

Could peer-reviewed humanities journals benefit by having student editors, as is the practice for law reviews? Are student editors valuable because they are less likely than peer reviewers to be biased against certain contributors and viewpoints?  I begin with a qualifier: What I am about to say is based on research, anecdotes, and experience rather than empirical data that I have compiled on my own. I do not know for sure whether student editors are more or less biased than professional academics, and I hesitate to displace concerns for expertise and experience with anxiety about editorial bias. There may be situations in which students can make meaningful contributions to reviewing and editing scholarship—and to scholarship itself—but to establish them as scholarly peers is, I think, a distortion and probably a disservice to them and their fields.

Student editors of and contributors to law reviews may seem to be the notable exception, but legal scholarship is different from humanities scholarship in ways I address below, and law reviews suffer from biases similar to those endemic to peer-reviewed journals. Nevertheless, law review submission and editing probably have less systemic bias than peer-reviewed journals, but not because students edit them. Rather, law review submission and editing make it more difficult for bias to occur. The system, not the students, facilitates editorial neutrality.

There are several factors about this system that preclude bias. Because editors are students in their second and third year of law school, editorial turnover is rapid. Every year a law review has a new editorial team composed of students with varied interests and priorities. What interested a journal last year will be different this year. Therefore, law reviews are not likely to have uniform, long-lasting standards for what and whom to publish—at least not with regard to ideology, political persuasion, or worldview.

Law review editors are chosen based on grades and a write-on competition, not because they are likeminded or pursuing similar interests. Therefore, law reviews are bound to have more ideological and topical diversity than peer-reviewed journals, which are premised upon mutual interest, and many of which betray the academic side of cronyism: friends and friends of friends become editors of peer-reviewed journals notwithstanding a record of scholarship. The composition of law review editorial boards is, by contrast, based upon merit determined through heated competition.

Once on board, law review student editors continue to compete with one another, seeking higher ranks within editorial hierarchies.[1] Being the editor-in-chief or senior articles editor improves one’s résumé and looks better to potential employers than being, say, the notes editor. Voting or evaluations of academic performance establish the hierarchies. Moreover, each year only a few student articles are published, so editors are competing with one another to secure that special place for their writing.[2] Finally, student editors usually receive grades for their performance on law review. The result of all of this competition is that law review editors are less able than peer reviewers to facilitate ideological uniformity or to become complacent in their duties—and law reviews will exhibit greater ideological diversity and publish more quickly and efficiently than peer-reviewed journals.

Because of the ample funding available to law schools, scores of specialized journals have proliferated to rival the more traditional law reviews. Many specialized law reviews were designed to compensate for alleged bias. There are journals devoted to women’s issues, racial issues, law and literature, law and society, critical legal studies, and so on. There are also journals aimed principally at conservatives: Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Texas Review of Law & Politics, and Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, to name three. Specialized journals give students and scholars a forum for the likeminded. On the other hand, such journals call for specialization, which students are unlikely to possess.[3]

For these reasons, I believe that bias is less prevalent among law reviews than among peer-reviewed journals. Part of the difficulty in determining bias, however, is that data collection depends upon the compliance of law review editors, who receive and weed through thousands of submissions per submission period and have neither the time nor the energy to compile and report data about each submission. Moreover, these editors, perhaps in preparation for likely careers as attorneys, are often required to maintain strict confidentiality regarding authors and submissions, thereby making “outside” studies of law reviews extremely difficult to conduct.

And then there is the problem of writing about bias at all: everyone can find bias in the system. I suspect that institutionalized bias against conservative legal scholars exists, but nonconservatives also complain about bias. Minna J. Kotkin has suggested that law reviews are biased against female submitters.[4] Rachel J. Anderson has suggested that law reviews are biased against “dissent scholarship,” which, she says, includes “civil rights scholarship, critical legal studies, critical race theory, feminist theory, public choice theory, queer theory, various ‘law ands’ scholarship that employs quantitative or humanistic methodologies, and other scholarship that, at one point in time or another, is not aligned with ideologies or methodologies that the reader values or considers legitimate.”[5] Finally, Jordan Leibman and James White discovered bias favoring authors with credentials, publication records, or experience.[6]

Law student bias seems, from my perspective, more likely to be weighted toward credentials and reputation rather than political persuasion.[7] An established professor with an endowed chair is therefore more likely to receive a publication offer from a law review than an unknown, young, or adjunct professor; and the name recognition of an author—regardless of personal politics—is more likely to guarantee that author a publication slot in a law review. One downside to this is that student editors will accept half-written or ill-formed articles simply because the author is, for want of a better word, renowned. It is common in these situations for students to then ghostwrite vast portions of the article for the author. Another more obvious downside is that professors from select institutions and with certain reputations will be published over authors who have submitted better scholarship. This is the primary reason why I advocate for a hybrid law review/peer review approach to editing.[8]

I’ve mentioned that legal scholarship differs from humanities scholarship. What makes it different is its attention to doctrinal matters, i.e., to the application of law to facts or the clarifying of legal principles and canons. After their first year of law school, students are equipped to study these sorts of matters. They are not unlike lawyers who approach a legal issue for the first time and must learn to analyze the applicable law in light of the given facts. Although the breadth and scope of legal scholarship have changed to reduce the amount of doctrinal scholarship produced and to incorporate interdisciplinary studies, doctrinal scholarship remains the traditional standard and the conventional norm.

Law students have the facility to edit doctrinal scholarship, but not to edit interdisciplinary articles.[9] This point is not necessarily to advance my argument about bias being less inherent in law review editing; rather, it is to circle back to my initial position that inexperienced and inexpert students should not be empowered to make major editorial decisions or to control the editing. As I have suggested, student editors are biased, just as professional peer reviewers are biased—the problem is that students are less prepared and qualified to make sound editorial judgments. If what is needed is an editorial system that diminishes bias, then student editors are not the solution. Law review editing, however, provides a clarifying model for offsetting widespread bias.

It would be difficult if not impossible to implement law review editing among humanities peer-reviewed journals for the disappointing reason that law reviews enjoy ample funding from institutions, alumni, and the legal profession whereas humanities journals struggle to budget and fight for funding. Therefore, I will not venture to say that peer-reviewed journals ought to do something about their bias problems by mimicking law review editing. Such a solution would not be practical. But by pointing out the benefits of law review editing—i.e., the result of less bias due to such factors as competition and turnover in editorial positions—I hope that more creative minds than mine will discover ways to reform peer-reviewed journals to minimize bias.


[1]I consider editor selection flawed for some of the reasons Christian C. Day describes in “The Case for Professionally-Edited Law Reviews,” Ohio Northern University Law Review 33 (2007): 570–74.

[2]How this competition works differs from journal to journal. In some cases, the students select which student articles to publish based on an elaborate voting process supposedly tied to blind review and authorial anonymity.  In other cases, faculty decide.

[3]“Many scholars feel that student editors of law review articles, while they were perhaps once competent to evaluate the merit of scholarly articles owing to the much narrower range of topics, have for the last few decades had great difficulty grappling with nondoctrinal scholarship (that is, scholarship dealing with the intersection of law and other disciplines). The authors of law journal articles now increasingly draw from areas such as economics, gender studies, literary theory, sociology, mathematics, philosophy, political theory, and so on, making the enterprise much too difficult for a group of generally young people, who are not only not specialists, but have barely entered the field of law.” Nancy McCormack, “Peer Review and Legal Publishing: What Law Librarians Need to Know about Open, Single-Blind, and Double-Blind Reviewing,” Law Library Journal 101, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 61–62.

[4]Minna J. Kotkin, “Of Authorship and Audacity: An Empirical Study of Gender Disparity and Privilege in the ‘Top Ten’ Law Reviews,” Women’s Rights Law Reporter 35 (Spring 2009).

[5]Rachel J. Anderson, “From Imperial Scholar to Imperial Student: Minimizing Bias in Article Evaluation by Law Reviews,” Hastings Women’s Law Journal 20, no. 2 (2009): 206.

[6]Jordan H. Leibman and James P. White, “How the Student-Edited Law Journals Make Their Publication Decisions,” Journal of Legal Education 39, no. 3 (September 1989): 396, 404.

[7]Many others share this view: “It appears to be generally assumed that, to a significant degree, Articles Editors use an author’s credentials as a proxy for the quality of her scholarship.” Jason P. Nance and Dylan J. Steinberg, “The Law Review Article Selection Process: Results from a National Study,” Albany Law Review 71, no. 2 (2008): 571.

[8]See my Spring 2013 Academic Questions article, “The Law Review Approach: What the Humanities Can Learn.” I am not alone on this score. Day suggests that “this bias can be defeated by blind submissions or having faculty members read the abstracts and articles of blind-submitted articles where the quality is unknown. The names and other identifying information should be obscured, which is common in other disciplines. This is easy to do with electronic submissions. It should be the rule in law reviews, at least at the initial stage of article selection.” “Case for Law Reviews,” 577.

[9]Hence Richard Posner’s suggestion that law reviews “should give serious consideration to having every plausible submission of a nondoctrinal piece refereed anonymously by one or preferably two scholars who specialize in the field to which the submission purports to contribute.” “The Future of the Student-Edited Law Review,” Stanford Law Review 47 (Summer 1995): 1136.

Can the Humanities Be Saved?

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Teaching on December 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

James Banks is a doctoral student studying Renaissance and Restoration English literature at the University of Rochester. He also contributes to the American Interest Online. He has been a Fellow with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Program; in addition to The Literary Lawyer, he has written for the Intercollegiate Review, First Principles and The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry. A native of Idaho’s panhandle, he lives in upstate New York and serves in the New York Army National Guard.


Humanities professors hear the bell tolling and are probably beginning to wonder if the next toll will be the last. In response to the impending crisis of student debts, the Modern Language Association (MLA) issued a “formal statement” condemning the rapid increase in tuition and calling on federal and state institutions to do something about it:

Public attention has been directed recently to the educational debt students accumulate in the course of undergraduate, as well as graduate, study. A major contributing factor has been the increasing portion of educational costs students must bear in the form of loans. To reduce debt burdens in the future, we call on Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate educational costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits. We also call on them to hold in check tuition increases, which often far outpace inflation, and to ensure that degree programs allow for timely completion.

This statement may be gobbledygook; it’s easy for academics to call for keeping student tuition within strict limits, but it is very hard to actually curb tuition rates. If the MLA wanted to make news, it would have issued a few recommendations for how to, say, tear down the gymnasium, privatize student housing, experiment with virtual conferences, or limit salary increases.

MLA’s concern about student debt and funding for the humanities is still news, though. It indicates that humanities departments are getting wind of the fact that, in tough economic times, they are going to be the first to lose students, and with state governments and universities tightening their belts, programs losing students are going to be first to get axed, if that’s what things come to.

Humanities departments won’t save themselves by doing what they have always done, which is to make moralist pronouncements and then leave the hard work of paying the bills to the administrations and government. Survival of these departments will require a more radical stance. Critics of the humanities predictably responded to the MLA statement by saying that humanities departments have brought the impending crisis on themselves by teaching classes with names like “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity” instead of the good old-fashioned “Introduction to Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton.”

It’s true that humanities departments would probably have more students if they stuck to a more traditional curriculum (which would also make for less embarrassing conversations between students and their grandparents, who want to know what their grandchildren are studying at school), but humanities departments have changed less than conservative critics claim. Although curriculum content in the humanities has evolved, humanities students can still read Shakespeare if they want to, and the place of the humanities in universities has not changed radically. 

The idea behind departments like English, philosophy and history was not to help people live longer but to help them live better. Writers, philosophers and historians may not be more moral than the average human being—in many cases, they are less so—but wrestling with the moral dilemmas that the humanities present could at least train tomorrow’s leaders to exercise their moral instincts. Humanities departments still see themselves as being the moral conscience of the higher education system, and, by extension, high culture.

However, as the moral standards of the academy and America’s mainstream culture have diverged, humanities departments have been demoted from being moral authorities to being moralistic beadles; to the rest of the academy, humanities faculty are ivory tower preachers who occasionally publish articles on America’s promiscuous history of imperialism and who host forums about cultural failures at the nexus of race, class and gender. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Troy Camplin, Interdisciplinary Scholar and Author of Diaphysics

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Communication, Creative Writing, Humanities, Information Design, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Teaching, Theatre, Western Kentucky University, Writing on May 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Allen Mendenhall interviews Troy Camplin.


Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.  


Q:  Your interdisciplinary background seems to lend itself to commentary on this site.  Tell us a bit about that background and a bit about your thoughts on the value of interdisciplinary scholarship.

A:  I have an unusual educational background that I only made more unusual in my independent studies. My undergraduate degree is in Recombinant Gene Technology, with a minor in chemistry, from Western Kentucky University. When I am interested in something, I spend all of my time learning about it. So, as an undergrad, I not only learned about molecular biology through my classes, but also in my independent reading. I read the journals and I read even popular works on molecular biology. This led me to John Gribbin’s book In Search of the Double Helix, in which he talks a great deal about quantum physics. I didn’t know a thing about quantum physics, and I really didn’t understand what he was saying about it in that book, so I decided to read his other books on quantum physics, including In Search of Shroedinger’s Cat. I cannot say I understood quantum physics much after reading that book, either, but I was hooked, and read every popular book on quantum physics I could read. In addition, I ran across several other popular science books that introduced me to what would become much more central to my thinking, including Gleick’s Chaos and Ilya Prigogine’s works on self-organization. These provided several of the seeds of my development as an interdisciplinary scholar.

Another element to my interdisciplinary development was a class I pretty much lucked into. Undergraduates have to take several required courses, of course, and one semester I wanted to take a New Testament class with Joseph Trafton (who was highly recommended, and whose class I eventually did take), but it was full. So I took an Intro. To Philosophy class just to get the hours in that section in. By chance I chose a class taught by Ronald Nash—a random choice that ended up changing my life completely.

Nash taught his class using three texts: a collection of Plato’s dialogues and two books Nash himself wrote. One of the books Nash wrote was Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism. It was through Nash that I was introduced to free market economics. I was hooked. I read everything I could find in the university library with the word “capitalism” in the title or as the subject. I read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, Hayek, and a little book titled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal  by Ayn Rand. The latter, of course, led me to Atlas Shrugged, and that led me to the rest of her work. Rand hooked me on the idea of being a fiction writer and made me interested in philosophy. I began reading the fiction writers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why) and the philosophers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why). I read and fell in love with Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky, Aristotle and Nietzsche. Particularly Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, whose tragic worldviews were deeply appealing to me. Nietzsche deepened my appreciation for philosophy, and introduced me to tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

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