As the core liberal arts unit at UC Irvine, the humanities seek to document and interpret the breadth and depth of the human experience as it has been lived in different places and times and expressed through all manner of cultural and communicational practices.
The humanities at UC Irvine address the entirety of the human experience, from the legacy of antiquity to the futuristic visions of science fiction, from the complex and global cultures of the Middle East to the interweaving diasporas that make up the United States of America, from the struggles of indigenous peoples to the vicissitudes of worldwide media, and from the fundamentals of language to the foundations of ethical behavior. In the twenty-first century, we aim to situate the knowledge and creative outcomes generated by human productivity within a broader consideration of the history and meaning of those insights and outcomes. We strive to embrace a global perspective that emphasizes the movement of people, languages, goods, and ideas across borders and oceans, while continuing to ask those larger questions that no society can avoid asking: who are we and why are we here? what is the meaning of life given the certainty of death? what is the good life and how should we pursue it?
The School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine
The School of Humanities includes the familiar disciplines of history, philosophy, literature, world languages, and art history, alongside the newer fields of critical and cultural theory, ethnic and gender studies, and film and media studies. Our ranked graduate programs are all in the top 35, with three in the top 26, all ahead of the UCI campus ranking at 39. In fact, Critical Theory at # 1 and English at # 17 are the highest ranked programs at UCI. Our faculty and alumni have written over a thousand books and have won an impressive array of prizes, including the National Humanities Medal, the Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, Von Humboldt and Berlin prizes, Mellon grants, and many, many others. Our prestigious alumni include David Benioff, Michael Chabon, Kem Nunn, Alice Sebold, Yusef Komunyakaa, Erin Gruwell, and many others. The majority of our students are first-generation college students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds--one of our greatest sources of pride.
The critical analysis of the human record, especially as expressed in writing and other media, touches almost every element of our teaching and research mission. We run the internationally acclaimed MFA programs in Fiction and Poetry, with an acceptance rate of less that 3%, making this the single most selective program at UCI. Our distinguished Literary Journalism program is the only one of its kind in the UC system. Between the Writing and Composition program and the Humanities Core course, we teach almost every single undergraduate student at UCI. The International Center for Writing and Translation stewards the research dimension of our commitment to writing, founded by internationally acclaimed writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, UCI Medalist and Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature. As humanists, we are dedicated to understanding what human communication means and how its transformation under modern media conditions affects us all. Writing, communication, intercultural fluency, multimedia competency, and critical thinking skills, including ethics and argument, are consistently indicated as top concerns in contemporary work places. We study 13 different languages, along with their broader literary and cultural traditions; the great African, Asia-Pacific, and European diasporas that have shaped and continue to reshape our world; and the intersectional dynamics of race, gender and sexuality across all cultures and societies. We may or may not produce art, but we certainly analyze and interpret the way art works as a form of human expression; we may not directly practice scientific inquiry or invent marketable commodities, but we are the experts in the history and philosophy of science, of technology, of engineering and medicine. Our many school-based centers indicate the liveliness and innovative character of research collaboration across departments in the School of Humanities.
The Value of the Humanities at UCI: Towards “convergence knowledge”
The humanities at UCI have contributed substantially to the campus's international profile as a leading research university, through signature emphases in Critical Theory, Creative Writing and World History, and with nationally-recognized departments of African American Studies, Art History, Asian American Studies, Comparative Literature, Classics, Gender and Sexuality Studies, East Asian Languages and Literatures, English, European Languages and Studies, Film and Media Studies, History, Philosophy, and Spanish and Portuguese, as well as uniquely inspired cross-disciplinary graduate programs (Visual Studies, Culture and Theory).
Unfortunately, our premier status is at risk just at the moment when we have the opportunity to meet the challenges of the moment and revolutionize the many fields we are uniquely positioned to lead. On the one hand, as majors go down and demand for writing and general education courses go up, we are forced to redistribute resources from academic programs to service teaching, and from ladder-rank faculty lines to lecturers. On the other hand, as our graduate programs rival in quality and in job placement the very best in the nation, we face increasing competition for graduate students by private institutions able to provide support packages far beyond our reach. Our majors are threatened by the misperception that humanities degrees are not “useful” to society and hold little in the way of job prospects for graduates, despite many studies to the contrary 1
. Cathy N. Davidson sums up recent research: "evidence suggests that over time the tortoise humanist may actually win the career race against the STEM hare." 2
An excessive reliance on technology has also ironically sparked a counterintuitive suspicion toward science and even logical argument, generating a world of “fake news" in which our ability to think and make informed, ethical choices is increasingly challenged. The humanities address the need to examine and evaluate rapid scientific and technological development, as well as changes in our cultural values and modes of social representation. The humanities provide the in-depth knowledge of the history and languages of other cultures in a globalized society. Finally, the humanities address the need to think, write and communicate effectively in a media-saturated world. Current economic, political and communicative trends make the humanities more than ever the fundamentally basic
research, indeed the infrastructural bedrock, of the knowledge-driven enterprise of the university today. Along with the arts and social sciences and reaching across to all the STEM fields, the humanities can contribute to a broad conception of "convergence knowledge" that would leverage all the disciplines of the university to address the questions of our day.
Addressing the big-picture questions we all face as living beings means learning how other humans have lived, thought, and expressed themselves in various languages and media, in vastly different times and places. The Renaissance understood the humanities as studia humaniora
: the study of how to be more human, how to be a better
human being. The strategic vision of the UC Irvine School of Humanities is thus a holistic, integrative, and inherently aspirational one driven by the imperative of understanding and improving the human condition: studia humaniora
.Footnotes:1. Longitudinal analyses, starting with Torben Drewes's 2002 study (Value added: humanities and social sciences degrees–evidence supports long-term employment success. Spring 2002 issue of the OCUFA Forum. Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations Forum), have shown that while the initial school-to-work transition is more challenging for humanities and social science graduates, the picture changes considerably if one looks beyond the several years following graduation. See also recent studies such as Fareed Zakaria, In Defence of a Liberal Education (Norton, 2016); Randall Stross, A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees (Redwood Press, 2017); and George Anders, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education (Little, Brown, 2017). ↩
. 2. The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux [Basic Books, 2017], p. 140).↩Cover photos:
Top, left to right: Alumna Erin Gruwell '91, founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation; Alumna Ashlee Walker '16, UCI Humanities academic advisor
Bottom, left to right: Alumnus Tim Fujieda-Feldman '08, game level-designer at Blizzard Entertainment; Alumna Lauren Kerner '17, IACT Coordinator for Israel Engagement at UCSB