What about the humanities?

March 21 2014

On Friday, 21 March, What about the humanities? A report on the situation of the humanities in Norway was presented to Minister of Education Torbjørn Røe Isaksen at a launch seminar in the Fritt Ord offices.

Hva skal vi med humanoria final

What is the status of the humanities in Norway today? What kind of legitimacy do the humanities carry in Norwegian society? What type of role should the humanities play in the public space? What can be done to reinvigorate the humanities and render their social significance visible? Are the humanities in crisis?

In an attempt to answer these questions, this report offers assessments of international debates about the humanities, a review of the history of the concept of the humanities in Norway and of the place of the humanities in Norway’s research and educational system, interviews with a group of social players and an overview of arguments often mobilised in defence of the humanities.

The report identifies four areas in which there is a great deal at stake for the humanities’ social contract: ”The public and education”, ”The national and the global”, ”Usefulness and preparedness”, ”Views on science and distinctive character”, and it advocates a notion of the humanities as a form of scientific preparedness that better equips us to cope with crises, the unexpected, uncertainty and coincidence.

Finally, it suggests possible changes of course and measures to strengthen the humanities in Norway in their encounters with the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The working group, chaired by Helge Jordheim and Tore Rem, was appointed and commissioned by the Fritt Ord Foundation. It has consisted of:

- Kristin Asdal, Professor of Technology and Science Studies at the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo.

- Torkel Brekke, Professor of the History of Religion and South Asian Studies at the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo.

- Marie Hvattum, Professor of the History of Architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

- Helge Jordheim, Professor of Cultural History at the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo.

- Tore Rem, Professor of British literature at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo.

- Erling Sandmo, Professor of History at the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo.

- Espen Ytreberg, Professor of Media Studies at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo.

The report is unfortunately not available in English. However, its table of contents, as well as a list of measures suggested by the working group, can be found below.

Content of Report

Chapter 1: Introduction – 13
The needs of society – 13
Mission statement – 15

Chapter 2: Background – 21
«Crisis» – 21
The humanities internationally – 24

Chapter 3: A short history of key terms and concepts – 55

Chapter 4: Interviews – 65
Diagnosis – 65
The role of the humanities – 68
Suggested measures – 70

Chapter 5: The Norwegian situation – 73
The history of humanities research – 73
Research policy – 77
The humanities and the Norwegian Research Council – 85
Higher Education – 89

Chapter 6: The humanities’ future – 109
Summary – 109
Bildung and the public sphere – 113
The national and the global – 120
Utility and preparedness – 125
Is it a science? The distinctiveness of the humanities – 129
Tackling the unexpected – 138

Chapter 7: Measures – 141
How best to organise the research – 142
Thematic focus areas – 145
Higher Education – 148
A humanities research centre – 151
Communicating the humanities – 152

Literature – 157
Biographies – 167
Acknowledgements – 171


In terms of research, the working group suggests:

  • Better support for outstanding individual researchers and small research groups
  • Strengthening large, cross-disciplinary research groups and/or environments that are geared towards Norwegian needs not covered by the EU Horizon 2020 programme
  • Creating a national policy plan for priority fields within the humanities
  • Better integration of humanist perspectives in the larger research programmes of the Norwegian Research Council

In terms of education, the working group suggests:

  • Establishing a Norwegian equivalent to the liberal arts-degree, as well as a “freshman year”
  • Establishing a cross-disciplinary Masters’ degree with an elite profile
  • Create more projects that combine cultural integration efforts with existing “lifelong learning” programmes
  • Closer contact with teaching graduates, as well as increase the availability of supplementary training courses

The working group further suggests:

  • The establishment of an independent humanities research centre or institute
  • Increased focus on the relevant work application of humanities degrees/knowledge
  • A more ambitious programme for establishing new arenas for public debate and/or strengthening existing ones.
  • Public debate fellowships
  • Prepare suggestions for the next parliamentary white paper on research



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