Rosalind Morris

Social Research The Future of Scholarly Knowledge, October 2017

The humanities are in crisis. And this is part of their self-identity. To say that the Humanities1 are constitutively in crisis is to imply, via the reading that has come to us from Reinhart Kosseleck, that their fundamental task is historical, in the sense that they entail the transmission of forms and values across time, and in the sense that time is a source of value for that which is transmitted. That relative value underwrites the authority of the statements made within their domain. It also assumes that humanistic knowledge—the forms of knowledge that are generally counterposed to scientific knowledge—is narrative (Lyotard [1979] 1984, 7). The question implicitly posed by the “Future of Scholarly Knowledge” conference at which this paper was presented is whether the crisis afflicting the Humanities in the new millennium is fundamentally different from those that characterized the previous century or, indeed, the period we may designate as Enlightenment modernity: the era of the university modeled on Humboldt’s proposal for the University of Berlin. This question is not merely academic, although it pertains to the institution of the university: its status, its function, its role in the shifting organization of social and political authority, and its contributions to culture. As Lyotard stated in 1979, “it is impossible to know what the state of knowledge is … without knowing something of the society within which it is situated” (13).

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