Arts & Humanities Division Libraries
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Statement of Purpose

Library Collecting in the Humanities

Principles of Collection Development


  Major Interdisciplinary Resources

Arts & Humanities Libraries

Humanities Websites

Nature of the Humanities





The Arts and Humanities constitute a corpus of disciplines which have always had certain common purposes in terms of the dissemination of knowledge, and the formats in which that dissemination occurs. Following are some quotations by UIUC faculty as well as by historical luminaries who have figured prominently as artists, authors, composers, historians, and philosophers.

Prof. Richard J. Betts, School of Architecture, Department of the History of Art, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

"From the time the first universities were created, in the 11th-12th centuries, until about 150 years ago, the dominant disciplines, in many cases the only disciplines, were what we now call the arts and humanities. From the mid-19th century onward, their status has been steadily challenged by the disciplines of the sciences. Today, the acquisitions budget of our library demonstrates the extent to which the sciences set the priorities for this university. The practitioners of scientific disciplines, as far as I can tell, mostly believe that their status represents the natural order of things. But they are mistaken, as were the humanists who once believed that their knowledge of "moral philosophy" was superior to the material knowledge of "natural philosophy." Both of these great branches of human knowledge are necessary and equally valuable. If natural philosophy tells us about the nature of the world and how we can use it to our purposes, moral philosophy tells us what we should do with that knowledge. A student who lacks adequate understanding of both parts of philosophy is badly educated, and poorly equipped to act successfully among people in the world as it is. By the same token, an institution of education that permits one or the other to become dominant is morally and intellectually crippled."

Prof. Marcel Franciscono, Department of the History of Art, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

"There was a time when it would have been thought distinctly odd for a university to insist that the arts and humanities should justify their place in the curriculum. They are, simply, at the core of human experience, so much so that historical epochs have received their names from accomplishments in art and literature: Classical Age, Renaissance, Romanticism. They have been central to the education of human beings in most times and most places--our own, perhaps, being the exception. And although science teaches us about the world of matter, when it comes to the hard questions of when it to use science and how to fit it into the larger human scheme of things, we necessarily fall back on the humanistic disciplines: philosophy, history, and the arts. If, as we must, we include entertainment among the necessities of civilized life, then in the west at least, there is almost no musical or theatrical activity that does not make use of a trained writer, composer, or performer. Even in practical affairs, nothing can be done without the arts and humanities. There is no building but the meanest and most utilitarian, no piece of decoration, no letterhead, trade mark, stamp, or product that does not require the services of a trained architect or designer. The centrality of the arts and humanities in a university should not need defending."

Marcel Proust, French Author:

"Only through art can we move outside ourselves, know what another perceives of this universe, which differs from our universe, whose landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that might exist on the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world--our world--we see the world multiply itself so that we have as many different worlds at our disposal as there are original artists, more different from each other than those which glide through infinity; and, many centuries after the hearth from which they emanated is extinguished, whether they are called Rembrandt or Vermeer, they will still transmit to us their special ray of light." (translated from Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu)

Jacob Burckhardt, 19th century Swiss historian:

"Sources, however, especially such as come from the hands of great men, are inexhaustible, and everyone must re-read the works which have been exploited a thousand times, because they present a peculiar aspect, not only to every reader and every century, but also to every time of life. It may be, for instance, that there is in Thucydides a fact of capital importance which somebody will note in a hundred years' time." (from p. 88 of Force and Freedom: an Interpretation of History, by Jacob Burckhardt; edited by James Hastings Nichols. New York : Meridian, 1955, which is an English translation of Burckhardt's Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen.