In an era in which business, technology, and professional knowledges dominate what universities around the world consider vitally important, Public Humanities projects insist, first, on the continuing significance of humanities perspectives for understanding the present conditions of life. Literature, art, music, philosophy, religion, history, culture, and language – all of these areas of traditional humanistic inquiry teach us what it means to live, for what one lives, and what it means to document what is or can be known. Humanities in universities also offer ongoing experiences of and trainings in how to think critically. A “public” Humanities relocates the curriculum, including skill-sets related to critical thought, and moves them from universities into communities.
Many social critics have noted the “dumbing down” of global public culture that often has come, hand in hand, with the spread and new powers of global capitalism. Political climates around the world frequently have become more superficial, conservative, and disengaged, creating new challenges for social justice organizing. At a time when they are needed in public arenas more than ever, the critical thinking capacities that are hallmarks of Humanities knowledge are under attack in global social life. Initiatives in Public Humanities respond to these assaults by bringing to the public at large this fight over the right of citizens to critical thought and to the integrity and legitimacy of common, public democratic spaces. Public space and cultural life, from the perspective of Public Humanities, should not be another branding opportunity for corporations. Public Humanities sees democracy at large as part of what is at issue at this moment in history – it supports popular critical engagement in every aspect of the world’s many public lives.