The Humanities in Public: A Computational Analysis of US National and Campus Newspapers

Lindsay Thomas, Abigail Droge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Academic defenses of the humanities often make two assumptions: first, that the overwhelming public perception of the humanities is one of crisis, and second, that our understanding of what the humanities mean is best traced through a lineage of famous reference points, from Matthew Arnold to the Harvard Redbook. We challenge these assumptions by reconsidering the humanities from the perspective of a corpus of over 147,000 relatively recent national and campus newspaper articles. Building from the work of the WhatEvery1Says project (WE1S), we employ computational methods to analyze how the humanities resonate in the daily language of communities, campuses, and cities across the US. We compare humanities discourse to science discourse, exploring the distinct ways that each type of discourse communicates research, situates itself institutionally, and discusses its value. Doing so shifts our understanding of both terms in the phrase “public humanities.” We turn from the sweeping and singular conception of “the public” often invoked by calls for a more public humanities to the multiple overlapping publics instantiated through the journalistic discourse we examine. And “the humanities” becomes not only the concept named by articles explicitly “about” the humanities, but also the accreted meaning of wide-ranging mentions of the term in building names, job titles, and announcements. We argue that such seemingly inconsequential uses of the term index diffuse yet vital connections between individuals, communities, and institutions including, but not limited to, colleges and universities. Ultimately, we aim to show that a robust understanding of how humanities discourse already interacts with and conceives of the publics it addresses should play a crucial role in informing ongoing and future public humanities efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-80
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of Cultural Analytics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)


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