Purpose of the essay
The purpose of this essay is to answer the question posed in the title, that is to say, to force a reflection on the role of the Humanities in a world that emphasises the innovative, enterprising, and electronic. In addition, this article will touch on the image of Humanists on the Polish language Internet, which reveals some interesting issues about the impression the public gains of their profession. This is not the final word on the subject, however: the discussion is fragmentary and is intended to delineate a subject area worthy of further and more detailed scientific investigation.
Definition of Humanist
The term "Humanist" (humanista) is defined in different ways in Polish-language dictionaries and other sources.
In the PWN Polish Language Dictionary (Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN) one learns that the term "Humanist" has three meanings: the first explains that s/he is a specialist in Humanities; the second shows her/him as a person who represents Humanistic principles; the third, as a man of the Renaissance (Słownik 2014; all translations from Polish in this article are by the author).
A different definition can be found online in the onet.wiem knowledge portal. There, the Humanist is defined as follows:
1. scientifically: a specialist in the field of Humanities, professionally dealing with culture, language and literature.
2. expert of ancient culture and literature.
3. scientifically, historically: a representative of Humanism (1); scholar of Renaissance.
4. figuratively: a person who cares about human values, dignity of human life (onet.wiem 2014).
There is no separate entry for "Humanist" in the Polish edition of the Wikipedia so far, though a partial definition can be found under "Humanism" (humanizm) where it explains that a Humanist "advocates resolving ethical dilemmas by applying the universal concepts, common to all men" while assigning the "source of truth and morality in man and her/his pursuit of happiness." The definition’s authors conclude that the term has many meanings and has been characterised by a number of controversies since it was introduced in the Renaissance (Wikipedia 2014a).
It is also worth mentioning the description of "Humanist" in the Nonsensopedia, a Polish version of the Uncyclopedia, which is considered by Wikipedians to be a parody of their project: for them the Humanities are an "internally inconsistent subculture created to explain that it is not worthwhile learning mathematics (usually), and that man should be versatile (very rare) (Nonsensopedia. 2014b; Wikipedia. 2014b). In any case, they are enemies of IT specialists" (Nonsensopedia 2014a). Further this definition emphasizes that Humanists think that hard science subjects will not be useful in their lives, learn to write long and mindless compositions, and do not always use correct Polish. The Nonsensopedia suggests that aside from this negatively perceived majority of Humanists there appears a small group of "real Humanists" belonging to a rarely seen, perhaps even covert, group of people for whom "humanism" involves the versatility in education. The Nonsensopedia is of course humorous; but it draws attention to a very important problem of the stereotypical perception of people with education in the Humanities.
The development of digital humanities in Poland
Information Technology has been applied in the humanities in Poland, particularly in the area of quantitative research, as a convenient-to-use tool to prepare publications and to support teaching. Discussions of the "Digital Humanities" in Poland as a field really began in 2012, with the conference Digital Shift in the Humanities (Cyfrowy zwrot w humanistyce), which was held in Lublin (see http://humanistykacyfrowa.umcs.lublin.pl/ and the link to the conference proceedings in Polish and English: http://e-naukowiec.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Zwrot_cyfrowy_w_humanistyce.pdf). This meeting gathered together not only the part of the academic community who were already dealing with digital research tools but also those interested in new areas of research. It also organised a Polish THAT Camp (the first meeting of the Polish THAT Camp was held at the Lublin conference; see http://historiaimedia.org/2013/03/24/thatcamp-polska-lublin-23-24-kwietnia/). More and more publications referring to the modern approach to the various disciplines that make up the Humanities and their new areas of research also began to emerge at this time, including, for example, M. Wilkowski's book about the redefinition of history through the application of new technologies in research, the popularization of openness in sharing research findings, and the creation of digital historical sources (Wilkowski 2013). The first projects for the promotion of the sharing of scientific works (e.g. the Open Repository of Historical Sciences "Lectorium"http://www.lectorium.edu.pl) and for gathering pedagogically valuable material on history (e.g. "History on the Web"http://historiawsieci.pl) were also created during this time. And, in September 2014, during the symposium PantaRhei - History 2.0 (part of the 19th General Congress of Polish Historians), a first attempt was made to summarize the state of change in the study of history (Sobczak, Cichocka and Frąckowiak 2014).
With this rise in interest in the Digital Humanities, universities have established programmes for the development of IT infrastructure. For example, the Humanities Faculty of the Szczecin University has established the Information Technology and Computing Faculty Centre (ttp://www.wcio.whus.pl), which is to support teaching and future research. Also changes occurred in the curricula. For example, the History and International Relations Institute of the Szczecin University has offered a new three-year bachelor course, Media and Civilization (Media iCywilizacja) since 2013-2014 (see http://hist.us.szn.pl/attachments/article/2052/MiC.xlsx; http://hist.us.szn.pl/index.php/studia-mainmenu-68/media-i-cywilizacja-studia/2053-informacje-podstawowe). This lets students study on the one hand the history of humankind and on the other the development of communication, including electronic. That kind of transformation can be found even more all over the country.
Analysis of the image of the humanities on the Internet
"Demotivators," are a popular meme on the Internet. These are satirical pictures with comments referring to the stereotypes deeply rooted in culture and are presented in the form of posters that mock the motivational posters found in great numbers in many workplaces (Cybort 2013, 42; Wikipedia. 2014c).
A search of Google Images using the Polish terms "humanista + demotywatory" (i.e. "Humanists + demotivators") led to the following ironic images (in this analysis, demotivators from the years 2009-2012, which clearly presented representations of the Humanities, were considered).
The first poster presents a middle-aged man, wearing glasses and dressed in a shirt buttoned at the neck with pens in the breast pocket. His figure is bent over a keyboard and clearly suggests that he sits in front of a computer. Of course, this image awakes no emotion in and of itself: but the character has wide-open eyes and mouth, as if he were amazed at what appeared to him on the monitor screen. At the bottom appears the phrase: "HUMANIST. A man weak in the counting, but too sloppy to obtain any particular specialization" (Demoty.pl 2013).
Other images stay with this stereotypical notion that Humanists are poor mathemeticians and not much better at anything else, (e.g. Kwejk.pl 2013a). In this case, the poster is divided into three parts. In the first, a thoughtful boy's head is presented with mathematical formulas, biological terms and vocabulary in foreign languages; in the second, the boy's face is sad and there is an inscription: "I'm not good in anything..."; in the third, the boy appears radiant with the discovery, "I am a humanist."
A very biased set of memes also discussed the career prospects for Humanists, which include a cashier position in the supermarket (Demotywatory.pl 2013a: "It is good that the humanists had to pass an exam in mathematics at the end of the high school, because now we are sure that they will give us back the proper change in the supermarket"); a modern art gallery guard (Kwejk 2013b: an older man in a uniform guards a machine with colorful candy with the caption, "From the series 'working humanists': Communing with arts"); or simply unemployed (Humor.pl. 2013: A middle-aged man sleeping on a bench in a public place with a can [of alcohol?] beside him and the caption "The Humanist is not a poet. The Humanist is unemployed"). It can be seen that in this form of transmission, the reflected image of a Humanist is close to the Nonsensopedia's definition to the extent that it focusses on this group's dislike of mathematics and lack of skills (Demotywatory.pl 2013b: on a black background with white frame inscription: "The humanist, once mathematician, painter, architect, philosopher, musician, poet, explorer, engineer, anatomist, inventor, geologist; today: one who does not like mathematics," or, on a black background, an image of a mathematical formula, signed: "A humanist. Once thoroughly educated man. Today, a man who cannot do math"). At the same time, there are also other demotivators that clearly suggests that being not the best in mathematics does not make anyone a Humanist (Kwejk.pl 2013c: On a black background: "Amazing Truth #667. The fact of not understanding mathematics does not make you a humanist"). Either way, one gets the impression that demotivators indicate a deeper social problem related towards the attitude to the hard science. However, this topic will not be further developed here.
In addition to the dominant amount of negative and stereotypically characterized illustrations, it is possible to find some positive examples. One of them touches on the point that the richest Pole is a Humanist (Kwejk.pl 2013d: a graphic showing a character in a cylinder with an eyepiece and a catfish moustache wearing a suit, with the caption "The list of the 100 top richest Poles opens with a humanist. And how are you 'logical mind'? Are you feeling like an idiot?"); another parodies the famous drawing of the evolutionary development of man, showing the cycle from ape back to a computer programmer huddled in front of screen looking like a primate (Demotywatory.pl 2013c); a third shows a Humanist succeeding as a business owner—who employs the graduate of a technical college (Demotywatory.pl 2013e: the text-heavy poster tells the story of two men, Paul, a graduate of technical studies, and Luke, a graduate of humanities. Paul was the best schoolboy and then the best university student but he got no life-experience; Luke, on the other hand, ran his own company during his studies and he was able to recruit Paul). A few graphics refer to Renaissance Humanism, which is represented by well-educated people with background in the hard sciences (Demotywatory.pl 2013d: Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man with the comment: "A Humanist will not complain about math because s/he is educated in all directions").
Finally, there are also demotivators with sexual and vulgarity context or offensive language, but because they might awaken controversy they will not be presented here.
Similar dissonances in the image of Humanists occur in web portals. A search for information on Humanists and jobs (Polish: "humanista + praca," i.e. "Humanist + job"), found 414,000 links through Google. For the purposes of this essay only articles published 2009-2012 by Virtual Poland (Wirtualna Polska) were analysed. They touch the perception of Humanists by the public and Humanists themselves. The conclusions show interesting side of the issue. It is possible to talk about two kinds of Humanists: those who complain about their low salaries and lack of career prospects (Nap 2014) and those who have succeeded and earn above the national average wage. The labour market research, which was referred to by the portal, indicates that Humanists open to other disciplines are increasingly sought-after employees because of their soft skills, including verbal and nonverbal communication, assertiveness, empathy, cooperation skills, problem solving, and self-presentation (Mondi Polska – Agencja Pracy 2015). They excel at negotiation, customer service, and "translating" the hermetic world of economics, industry, and IT to more "human" disciplines such as advertising, PR, and marketing and media. The reasons for their success must be sought in the pursuit and the awareness of further learning and as well as the development of those soft skills discussed above. Another important role of the Humanities involves their ability to improve the ability of other specialists to be open to and maintain a broader perspective on the world around them through their breadth of discipline. This is illustrated very well by the statement that the Humanist: "... must constantly reinvent her/himself" (Kurek 2014, 3), giving her/him a large field to manoeuvre in and demonstrating that s/he is able to adapt to new conditions. Hence it can be concluded that this is the key to success. In reference to the Renaissance (and also the increasingly electronic contemporary world), interest in modern technologies is also commonly added ((toy) and (agka) 2014, 2; Kurek 2014, 3; Tomczyk 2014, 2; Winnicki 2014, 2; WP.PL 2014).
In the articles also the negative votes are not missing. In one, an employer indicated that s/he was not able to imagine her/himself hiring: "a maladjusted Humanist, with a mass of problems in the head" ("humanisty nieprzystosowanego do życia, z masą problemów na głowie"). It is asserted that those who study the Humanities graduate either immediately to unemployment or, the wiser ones, go on to choose a subsequent technical studies. The authors of such comments probably mean to underline the validity of choices referring to education, which according to their beliefs is about finding jobs and high salaries (Nap 2014).
Why there is a controversy in the image of Humanists on the Internet?
The question arises, then, as to why the image of Humanists are so controversial and tending so strongly to the negative? J. Kurek wonders if the picture is not spoiled by frustrated representatives of the education sector, who began their work not out of passion, but because of a lack of any other prospects for life. In his opinion, another explanation comes from the common belief that the Humanities are "easier" than other fields and, because of this, are selected by less ambitious people who after graduation face a labour market that rewards the ambitious and able-to-adapt. A third possibility is the very specific nature of the programmes developed during the educational boom that was observed in Poland during the post-Communist transition period as a result of the entry of baby boomers in the adult world and a universal fascination with higher education brought by foreign companies opening their branches at the Vistula. At this time, a large number of private universities offering Humanities studies were created, focusing primarily on sociology, pedagogy, and political science: it is not difficult to see that the organization of this type of studies was relatively cheap and quite simple, because the Humanities does not require the building of expensive laboratories and multimedia studios as well as the common opinion that teaching Humanists need only a chalk, a blackboard, and books. Together, these result in a not-very-positive picture of Humanities studies compared to more technical disciplines. This has begun to change, however, thanks to the development of the digital humanities (Kurek 2014, 2; TK/JK 2014; Tomczyk 2014, 2).
A certain dissonance between the image of Humanists reflected in the memes and portals dedicated to labour issues may be noticed. This results primarily from the nature of the two media. The demotivators present problems in an engaging manner that likely to help them spread on the Internet. Thus, the authors can afford to show reality in a distorting mirror based on satire and stereotypes that exist in society. In the case of the articles on WP.PL, however, one would assume that the service is trying to provide information free of subjective interpretation and opinion.
But despite of the universal tendency towards portraying the hard science as the ones that are to be the main driver of economic growth, it can be concluded that Humanists find themselves very well situated. Their key to success is the flexibility to acquire additional skills and the openness to interdisciplinary work, especially in the area of other related sciences and IT. Therefore, in addition to the promotion of innovation and the growing fascination of the hard science, which sometimes takes on the nature of the cult, it would be good to promote learning and self-development of Humanists, especially in the use of new technologies. This will allow them to exploit their potential in the area of soft skills in the IT industry and others. It would be also good to encourage them to interdisciplinary research transcendent beyond the humanities, which would be combined with the hard science.
Works Cited / Liste de références
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