February 6, 2018

Former ambassador to U.K. promotes humanities education at Phi Beta Kappa lecture

By Bailey Campagna —

Former Ambassador to the U.K. and Sweden Matthew Barzun spoke to students about the advancement of humanities at the 13th annual Phi Beta Kappa lecture Feb. 6.

“Our Separate Worlds: Where Do We Go From Here?” argued societal divisions can be mended by more education in the fields of humanities.

Barzun presented the idea of a divided America where people should look towards the inclusive message humanities presents.

While ambassador to the U.K., Barzun spoke to 20,000 high school students about their ideas of the most hopeful and most frustrating things in the country. After being an ambassador, he was inspired to continue speaking to students from Louisville and Indiana.

He said many students found division to be the most frustrating thing in America, and diversity gave students the greatest hope. He said humanities encourage the diversity that gives hope.

Barzun said in a time when the focus has been on STEM subjects, universities should devote resources to expanding the teaching of humanities.

“If you relegate humanities to just one little letter trying to imitate the trendiness of science, that is a losing prophecy,” Barzun said.

He said humanities focuses on inclusion, while STEM subjects often focus on “factoring out.” He said in its current divisive climate, America needs to learn more about inclusivity.

Barzun said we are currently living in a “connection paradox.”

“Never have we been so connectable. Never have we felt so disconnected,” Barzun said.

He said in the age of social media and the internet, we are more alone than ever. He pointed to the U.K.’s recent creation of the Minister of Loneliness, and books such as “Alone Together” by Sherry Turkle.

“We have confused mere connectivity with real connection,” Barzun said.

He said this too can be solved by a deeper interest in the humanities and encourages people striving to work in all fields to take an interest in the subject.

“Ask, listen, serve, open up,” Barzun said in his final remarks. “That, I think, is a helpful pattern. That, I think, sets the right tone.”

Photo by Bailey Campagna / The Louisville Cardinal

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