A Brief History of the Inhumanities and Contemporary Humanities Studies

    • Lucca November 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • William H. Bridge, University of Rochester, USA


    A history of the humanities (Bod) itself suggests that—intertwined with that very history—there is also a history of the inhumanities, or the body of texts, habits of mind, etc. that both legitimize dehumanization and invalidate the humanities. If the power of the humanities is in its “translating the human to ourselves” (Goldberg), the “power” of the inhumanities is its translation of what disqualifies human beings from treatment as such. In this paper, the slave serves as the embodiment of the inhuman, and slavery a proxy for the inhumanities. Much like its humanistic counterpart, even a brief history of the inhumanities exhumes its underlying methodological principles and patterns. Three such principle-patterns are: 1) a direct proportionality between freedom and the need for humanistic study; 2) positing critical thought as impossible for the inhuman; and, 3) a labor theory of human value. Given the presence and patterns of the inhumanities, the history of the humanities is a foundational first step. But, as long as the inhumanities are everpresent, with its principles that often antagonize those of the humanities, the humanities and its history runs the risk of being cannibalized by the inhumanities. What is needed, then, is a supplement to the history of the humanities: contemporary humanities studies, or studies that articulate why the principles of humanistic study are preferable, in this present moment, to those of the inhumanities. This paper provides an East-West (Zhang Longxi) approach to the history of the inhumanities, and concludes with thoughts toward contemporary humanities studies.