In this cultural moment when everything seems focused on “the bottom line” and rational metrics, it may at first seem diﬃcult to define the value of the humanities. But it isn’t diﬃcult at all. The value of the humanities comes to the fore immediately for us when we see a sublime landscape and try to communicate its power over us; when we ask about the meaning of life when confronting our own mortality or the loss of a loved one; when we search for public heroes and try to make sense of political institutions and their histories; when we travel to another country and confront new languages and customs; when we claim that some things are morally better than others and are asked to defend our ethical standards; when we seek to defend democracy and specific cultural standards in a complex global context; and when we want to draw, or write, or play music that lifts the soul. We engage with the humanities when we love, when we sing, when we mourn. History, ethics, rhetoric, logic, languages, writing, painting, music, playwriting, cultural analysis: these are central to what make us human and what make human cultures thrive. And these are the humanities today.
The humanities free us to think new and creative thoughts that enact change—in the world, and in our own lives. They reframe old questions so that we can see them anew and question our presuppositions so that we can adapt, grow, and flourish in the world. They connect us to our ancestors and to the past, making time meaningful to us and giving us a sense of place in the universe. They teach us to think critically about ourselves and our world. Relevant more today than ever before, the humanities are a vibrant territory of investigative research in past, present, and possible human cultures and values.
I am honored to have been appointed in January as the new Director of the UT Humanities Center to grow our programs and sustain the vital work of the humanities on the UT Knoxville campus and in our region. We are deeply grateful to the many friends whose generous support enables the Humanities Center to do what it does. I invite you to visit the UT Humanities Center soon and become part of our community of humanities inquiry.—Amy J. Elias, Director, UT Humanities Center and Lindsay Young Professor of English