Reincarnation or extinction of humanities in
the digital age?
Project Director, EuroLiterature
Educational Information Technology Research Programme (EIST)
University of Bergen
Hermann Fossgt. 6, N-5020 Bergen, Norway
The Humanities constitute the historical core of higher and secondary
education in Europe. However, as a consequence of the industrial revolution,
followed by the information revolution, natural sciences and technology
have acquired the centre-stage in universities and research institutions
at the expense of the Humanities. The latter tend to be perceived by politicians,
future students, and the general public as less useful, despite many official
declarations on the need to focus on cultural and linguistic education.
Indeed, some pessimitic observers start to envisage the perspective of
an irreversible decline, even extinction in some institutions of humanities
The changing status of Humanities education in universities and other
institutions of higher education actualizes a possible conflict between
classical ideals in European education and the ongoing restructuring of
European educational systems as instrument of professionalisation. The
impact of the information revolution on Humanities education and its possible
perspectives for future strategies can be summarized along the following
- The information revolution has, more than the industrial revolution,
actualized the perspective of a cultural decline and discontinuity in European
higher education, with a possible loss of historical memory and cultural
anchoring of higher education as a whole.
- The multistep historical development of Information and Communication
technologies (ICT) is one from a process-control technology (computing),
towards an information management technology (IT), then producing
a convergence of ubiquous communication and media (ICT) and finally
a digital culture (information society). This rapid evolution provides
humanistic research and education with wide-ranging challenges and opportunities.
- The pressure applied on higher education to adapt to a (neo)liberal
market economy, globalization processes and ongoing supranational constructions
affect educational systems and contents. It raises the general issue of
a critical continuity in European universities, and the particular issue
of the context into which Humanities education has to evolve.
- The integration of ICT at the core of Humanities education and research
is not only a necessary instrumental move, but constitutes a powerful way
of revitalising the Humanities by redirecting the concern of educators
and researchers toward a new cultural contexts.
- Central theoretical issues developed during several generations of
humanistic research and education have the potential to move to the core
of future ICT and contribute to the development of more human-aware products
and information architectures. Indeed, it is the main point of this paper:
future information technologies and societies may not appear and endure
without the decisive contribution of humanistic research.