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Renaissance Humanism and the Future of the Humanities Notes

Alice Quach
Renaissance humanism produces a dynamic vision of scholarly activity that is
more relevant to our current moment.
There needs to be a continuous source of evolving history of humanism, and
carry it on to the alternative futures, or else it is at a huge risk of decline.
The purpose of the humanities is to enable man to understand man in
relation to himself, that is to say, in his inner aspirations and ideals.
The appeal of a humanism that freed human thought and agency from the
tyranny of ignorance was powerful in the shadow of World War II, even if it
meant casting the Middle Ages as the temporal embodiment of totalitarian
oppression and the Renaissance as liberator.
Twentieth-century historians Hans Baron and Eugenio Garin represented one
branch of thought at the time when they identified humanism with the
affirmation of individual freedom
Dignity is used to signify that characteristic which is worthy of a man which
distinguishes him either as the highest phase of natural evolution or as the
masterpiece of creation; and at the same time to imply that self-feeling and
social relations shall be impregnated with the esteem which this
characteristic deserves
By aligning their key terms with contemporary academic accounts of
Renaissance humanism, the mid-century architects of the modern humanities
could simultaneously claim a distinguished intellectual pedigree while making
the humanities urgently relevant to a world in turmoil.
Crucially, Kristeller insisted that Renaissance humanism was not a
philosophy or a worldview but a disciplinary structure, which had to be
understood in relation to the institutions in which it functioned and the
specific practices to which it gave rise
In this model of humanist education, speculative knowledge and technical
skill are mediated by a third term: Prudence, or practical wisdom
The new scholarship on Renaissance humanism, in short, offers a more
complex view of the humanities in action than we are likely to achieve by
repeating the self-descriptions of twentieth-century humanists. Moreover, it
allows humanities practitioners today to identify and engage with the
longstanding questions and internal paradoxes that continue to structure our
disciplines, which believe to be more productive than asserting ideological
unity in the face of external challenges.
To be sure, one value of humanities scholarship derives from its curatorial
oversight of its objects; museums, performances, editions, and public
outreach remain important facets of the humanities public mission.

Geoffrey Harpham traces the current crisis in humanities study to the postCold War moment when it became detached from its rationale
In contrast, Louis Menands Marketplace of Ideas (2010) surveys similar
terrain but reaches a different conclusion, questioning whether fields such
as literature, philosophy, and the arts need to have consistent, stable, and
articulable paradigms for research and teaching (91). Menand concludes
that they dont, that the humanities skepticism about the forms of
knowledge is itself a form of knowledge
The contrast between Harphams and Menands positions reflects two distinct
views of what disciplinary structures are and how they survive