Insight into the unknown


Society is vastly underestimating the potential of the humanities to help solve its most difficult problems. Worse still, the social norms of universities persuade the best-trained humanists that they can only work on problems that perfectly match the narrowest version of their expertise.

We did our best to blow up this myth at the Humanities Without Walls pre-doctoral workshops in 2015 and 2016, working with humanists from 15 research universities to tackle society’s wicked problems, including electoral reform, the social impact of driverless cars and the American way of dying.

After our work together, a participant captured our perspective beautifully, writing that the humanities “give us access to how we think about things. Humanities are adept at giving us insight into the unknown, allowing us to make decisions in the face of the unknown. Having an advanced degree in the Humanities also means that you have dived deeper – in short, the deeper you go, the better you are at navigating the unknown.”

The workshops emerged in part from work we did with the state humanities councils of Illinois and Indiana. The content is based on our original framework for social innovation, which we’re integrating into a range of professional education – most notably the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation at USC.