"What About the Humanities…?" Creating the Humanities Indicators Project

May 20, 2005 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 140C, The Harris School of Public Policy Studies

Norman M. Bradburn, Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Harris School of Public Policy Studies; Vice President for Research, National Opinion Research Center (NORC)

Over the last several decades, the relevance and importance “the humanities” has increasingly been called into question—as recently as this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that, “Humanities Scholars Continue Their Debate Over Whether Anyone Is Listening to Them.” Have the humanities become so marginalized that they no longer serve a purpose in peoples’ lives? How does an education in the humanities—the disciplines of literature and language, philosophy, religion, art history, cinema, linguistics, and history—contribute to an individual’s career or well-being? Do people even know what the humanities are? While competing answers to these and related questions often vie for space in newspapers and magazines, no thorough study of the humanities has been conducted. This final Cultural Policy Workshop for the 2004-2005 year will begin to address these questions in a systematic way when it introduces the National Opinion Research Center’s “Humanities Indicators Project.”

“The Humanities Indicators Project” is an American Academy of Arts and Sciences effort to establish a framework for the compilation, analysis, and publication of comprehensive trend data about the humanities. The humanities indicators will equip researchers and policymakers, universities, foundations, museums, libraries, and other public humanities institutions with better statistical tools for answering basic questions about undergraduate and graduate degrees in the humanities, employment of humanities graduates, levels of program funding, public understanding of the humanities, and other areas of concern within and without the humanities community.

The goal of the “Indicators Project” is to provide parallel information to that provided by the Science and Engineering Indicators produced biennially by the National Science Foundation under the auspices of the National Science Board. Although the National Endowment for the Humanities has had authorization since 1985 to support production of similar data and indicators for the humanities, the agency’s leadership has not felt financially able to launch such an undertaking, and the Congress has not appropriated specified funding for such an effort. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997 began exploring the project in an effort to provide models of content and to study the feasibility of an on-going Humanities Indicators publication.

This workshop will report on the current state of thinking about the project and explore with participants what should constitute such a set of indicators.

This event will appeal to faculty and students who work in humanities disciplines, staff of arts & humanities non-profits, and anyone interested in the current state of humanistic inquiry or liberal education.

About Norman Bradburn and NORC:

Norman Bradburn is Tiffany and Margaret Black Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Harris School of Public Policy, the Department of Psychology, the Graduate School of Business, and the College. He is the senior vice-president for research at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), where he has also been both director and president of its Board of Trustees. He has formerly served as provost of the University, chairman of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, and associate dean of the Division of the Social Sciences. In March Bradburn was appointed Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorate. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994.

Trained as a social psychologist, Bradburn’s research has focused on psychological well-being and assessing the quality of life, particularly through the use of large-scale sample surveys; non-sampling errors in sample surveys; and research on cognitive processes in response to sample surveys. His books include Thinking About the Answers: The Application of Cognitive Processes to Survey Methodology; Polls and Surveys: Understanding What They Tell Us; Asking Questions: A Practical Guide to Questionnaire Construction, and Improving Interviewing Method and Questionnaire Design.

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) is a national organization for research at the University of Chicago, with offices on the University’s campus, in Chicago’s downtown Loop, and in Washington DC, as well as a nationwide field staff. NORC’s clients include government agencies, educational institutions, foundations, other nonprofit organizations, and private corporations. Although its national studies are its best known, NORC’s projects--which include complex survey and other data collection strategies as well as sophisticated empirical analyses--range across local, regional, and international perspectives as well. NORC’s project work is done in an interdisciplinary framework, with strong staff cooperation across substantive areas.

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