Liberal Reads
Liberal Reads
Nov 10, 2021
Episode 1 - In Defence of the Humanities
Play • 25 min

BOOK REVIEW - Eric Adler "The Battle of the Classics How a Nineteenth-Century Debate Can Save the Humanities Today"

By Mara Pepine

It is already become clichéd to say that the humanities are quickly losing in popularity around the world. For Eric Adler, steeped in the American academic environment, this discussion hits particularly close to home. He recounts a short anecdote that is symptomatic of the way the humanities are treated today:  an economics professor disparages them whilst a humanities professor flounders in finding an appropriate apology. In this domain, Adler concludes, the consensus seems to be that the humanities are not doing very well, to say the least. He laments, however, that various apologists of the humanities have been particularly short-sighted. Those wishing to cement the role of the humanities have rarely paid any attention in hindsight to the period before the 1960s. In contrast, Adler’s suggestion is to go further back in history and draw upon a highly relevant event of the late-19th century: the so-called Battle of the Classics.

The term ‘Battle of the Classics’ refers to an intellectual dispute that took place in the US between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. It concerned the role that Ancient Greek and Latin played in American higher education at the time. While the traditionalists were trying to preserve the curriculum based mainly on the classics, their opponents were striving to enrich it with different subjects, from sciences to modern languages.

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