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»The Humanities at the Turn of the Millennium« was a joint Faculty initiative based at the Centre for Cultural Research, Faculty of Arts, University of Aarhus, Denmark. This initiative included the organisation of a series of conferences during the years 1999 and 2000 concerned with the following themes: 1) The Humanities in the Process of Globalisation and Internationalisation; 2) The Humanities and the Information Technologies; 3) The Humanities at the University and 4) The Humanities in Transformation. The conferences were funded by the Research Foundation of Aarhus University, a number of departments at the Faculty of Arts, and a few of them also received support from the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and the Danish Research Agency.

Themes and Conferences

II. The Humanities in the Process of Globalisation and Internationalisation

As a result of rapidly growing communications and commercial intercourse, the globe is covered by an increasingly stronger net of relations of interdependency. Some of the threads of this net formally and officially link nation-states to one another through inter-governmental and supra-national organisations. Other less official threads go above or below the state level and create or render visible forms of global community independent of national and international organisations.

The development of both types of threads puts pressure on all local and national societies by threatening to make their outer boundaries and claim to autonomy irrelevant. Since the development of the humanities everywhere has to a great extent been linked to the development of the nation-state, the humanities is also under pressure, and especially those branches concerning contemporary culture. Research objects are transformed in ways that obviously demand new categorisations and levels of analysis: in the areas of art and literature, the new field of post-post-colonial cultural analysis is currently being delineated as
the oppositions between national/international and East/West are being undermined in works of art that are "small places in the world", at once smaller, more local, and larger, more global. Principal categories in the anthropological foundation of the humanities - history and philosophy as civilisation and culture, universalism and relativism as well as that which is universally human - are being displaced and challenged by developments at the turn of the millennium that demand global and galactic perspectives in our understanding of culture.

III. The Humanities and the Information Technologies

The history of humankind may be regarded as a permanent technological revolution that has always confronted society with new questions, problems and possibilities in respect to natural conditions, organisation of labour, everyday life, and cultural values and self-understanding. This is also true for the technological development that took place after World War II, and that has often been described as a technological and scientific revolution with computer technology - or in contemporary parlance: new information technology - as an important pivotal point.

As the above lexical change implies, the computer is now widespread in society. Not only is it used by a steadily increasing number of people, it is also used for a steadily increasing number of different purposes and to handle a steadily increasing number of different kinds of information. This development involves at the same time a shift in our understanding of computer technology and its socio-cultural signification. Whereas previously people regarded the computer as an automatic number cruncher and effective automatic data processing, and spoke of electron brains and artificial intelligence, today the computer is more likely described as a tool kit, as media and information technology, and digital equipment is well on its way to becoming an integrated and often also natural part of social organisation.

Thus, there is every reason to examine the development of information technology through wide-ranging social and cultural analyses with contributions from many different disciplines. It is also of interest in this connection to clarify the extent to which and the resources with which the individual humanistic traditions can contribute to this work.

IV.The Humanities at the University

The social roles of research and the university are rapidly changing at present. More and more social areas of competency are being rendered scientific while tendencies critical of science are being reinforced; more and more research is being carried out in the private sector or as government research outside of the universities and at the same time the universities are becoming more open to collaborating on contract research projects. The universities are growing vigorously in many countries, and the never secured ideals of independent research and of the unity of science and the unity of research and teaching are being threatened in new ways.

Although humanistic research, teaching and presentations are carried out many other places than at the university, there is no doubt that both in the past and at present the universities have been and still are a highly important organisational framework of the humanities. What is happening to the university as an institution is thus anything but a matter of indifference to the humanities, just as the universities cannot be unaffected by what is happening to their faculties of arts and the wider field of the humanities. Consequently, there may be good reason to reflect on the state of the universities and on the role of the faculty of arts inside the universities as well as outside in respect to other humanistic educational and research institutions in society.

This programme area is thus an attempt to take stock of the state of the faculty of arts at the turn of the millennium. During four two-day conferences the transformations in the relationship of the humanities to the four other classical faculties of the university will be considered. As an attempt to strengthen the inter-faculty contact that is important to the unity of the university, the conferences will largely be based on local forces. One conference will concern the social role of the faculty of arts and its interaction with other humanistic institutions and the national culture at large. The state of the university will also constitute the theme of an international conference; other arrangements are currently under consideration.

V. The Humanities in Transformation

Within the humanities the structure of the disciplines also seems to be breaking up in various ways or to be under different forms of pressure.

In this connection one might consider, for instance, not only the weakening of the normative signification of liberal education for the humanistic disciplines and the developments in interdisciplinarity over the past 25 years (with the accompanying formation of a number of new fused disciplines), but also the often highly different expectations of the humanities from the business world, research politicians and politicians in general, and those following a course of further education.

Additionally, many are calling in question (and often for many different reasons) the very foundation for maintaining the traditionally close connection between research and teaching.

The Humanities at the Turn of the Millennium is a joint faculty initiative, based at the Centre for Cultural Research. The programme has been arranged in co-operation between the Centre, the Faculty of Arts, and a number of the Faculty's departments. The Planning of the various arrangements has involved a considerable number of the Faculty's teaching staff, and the work has been co-ordinated by a steering committee.

The participating teachers have displayed great inventiveness, energy and enthusiasm, but this alone is not sufficient for the implementation of so comprehensive a programme. For this, funding is required, and in this respect we are especially grateful to the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and the Aarhus University Research Foundation. A number of the Faculty's departments and centres have also contributed, as noted in connection with individual arrangements. We are grateful for all contributions.

Since a number of the conferences will be held in English, we have chosen to present all conferences in both languages, while the programmes for individual arrangements are found only in the language used for the conference in question. All arrangements are open to the public. The number of seats is, however, limited, and for that reason we suggest that seats be reserved when pre-registering.

For futher information, see the presentation of each arrangement.

Steering Committee

    Niels Ole Finnemann, Department of Information and Media Science

    Frits Andersen, Department of Comparative Literature

    Jørgen østergård Andersen, Ethnography

    Steen Busck, Department of History

    Hans Fink, Department of Philosophy

    Randi Markussen, Department of Information and Media Science

    Hans Jørgen Schanz, Department of the History of Ideas

    Ton Otto, Department of Ethnography

Conference lectures published in print and/or as e-texts


The two lectures given at the 'Opening Ceremony'. June 4th, 1999 :

    Maurice Godelier: Deconstructions, Changing Perspectives and Progress in Understanding Social Phenomena - An Anthropologist's Point of View.
    Printed in: FOLK, Journal of the Danish Etnographic Society. No: 40, 1999.

    Paul Ricoeur: Humanities between Science and Art
    Centre for Cultural Research, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark 1999.
    [Download e-text edition]

Lecture from the Conference 'Text, Medium, and Meaning', May 5-6, 1999.


Lecture from the Conference "Humaniora og Naturvidenskab" nov. 19-20, 1999

Lecture from the Conference 'Humaniora på universitetet - og udenfor. Kulturforskningen i kulturlivet' (The Humanities inside and outside the University), Sept. 24-25, 1999.

    Morten Kyndrup: Den humanistiske kompetences enhed for forskellighed - et historisk rids.
    Arbejdspapir no. 10, Center for Tværæstetiske Studier, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus 1999.


Lecture from the Conference "Humaniora og Samfundsvidenskab" May 27-28, 1999

    Margareta Bertilson: Om Humaniora og Samfundsvidenskab: konkurrens, konvergens eller hvad?
    [Download pdf edition]

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Updated 1 December 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the web editor at Centre for Cultural Research.