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February 2, 2009

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Welcome! This is a blog written by Tim Carmody, Robin Sloan, Matt Thompson, and a host of others (you’ll meet them below) about media and journalism, books and writing, ideas and — okay, it’s all over the place. We’re working on a new project, and we hope you’ll contribute:

Paper is the new black, so we’re making a book.

Actually, we’re making it because the comments and conversation on Snarkmarket deserve this kind of durability. And because, hey, we’re a book-ish crew: This will be fun.

The subject is the new liberal arts. The seeds are Jason Kottke’s notion of “the liberal arts 2.0” and the Edge-y idea of “a third culture” and a new humanism.

Recently, Tim kicked off a conversation that got all of our gears turning. I mused idly on the possibility of a book. Then Gavin prodded us into action.

So here’s the frame:

It’s 2009. A generation of digital natives is careening towards college. The economy is rebooting itself weekly. We have new responsibilities now — as employees, citizens, and friends — and we have new capabilities, too. The new liberal arts equip us for a world like this. But… what are they?

The time is ripe to expand and invigorate our notion of the liberal arts. Is design a liberal art now? How about photography? Food? Personal branding?

We don’t want to generate a canonical list, but rather a laundry list. We want pitches for new liberal arts that are smart, provocative, insightful, surprising, and/or funny.

Together, they’ll read a little like the course catalog for some amazing new school. (The College of Snarks and Letters? Our endowment is untouched by the financial crisis!)

So now we’d like to ask for your help.

There are two ways to be part of the book:

  1. Make a pitch for a new liberal art. It can be something you know lots about, or something you wish you knew lots about. It can be general or specific. It can be anything. Leave your first draft as a comment on this post, and don’t worry about thinking it all the way through. Don’t worry about length, either. If we decide to include your pitch in the book, we’ll work all of that out.

  2. Help promote the project. Even if pitching a new liberal art isn’t your speed, someone in your network might have a great idea. So blog this post; Twitter it; email it to your two nerdiest friends. Here’s a shortened link, if it’s helpful:

Let’s move fast on this. We’ll collect pitches for new liberal arts over the course of the next week. Then we’ll switch quickly to editing, design, and production.

The book will be slim, and the print run will be small. And I’ll post details on price (cheap) and availability as soon as I have them.

This is a Snarkmarket/Revelator Press co-production. We’ve admired the spirit and design of the Revelator e-chapbooks for ages, so now we’re going to team up to make something you can actually hold in your hands.

Welcome to the curriculum planning committee. What does the class of the 21st century need to know?

Update: Wow! There are now over 100 contributions and comments below — but don’t feel like you have to read them all to post one of your own. We’re going for free-form idea generation here, so have at it!

Posted February 2, 2009 at 1:54 | Comments (140) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', New Liberal Arts


A couple of helpful jumping-off points:

Here's Jason Kottke's comment on Tim's original post.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on 'liberal arts.'

And just to be clear: We're not just talking about programs of study in college or subjects you learn in school. The new liberal arts certainly apply to those areas -- but they're things we're all learning these days, whether we're in school or not.

For my part, I'm obsessed with photo manipulation as a new liberal art. You should know how to spot photo manipulation (and when to assume a photo's been manipulated) -- and how to manipulate one yourself.

There's probably some more generalized form of this that encompasses other media, too...

The democratization of manipulation?

What I'm really excited about in the project is not just totally new liberal arts, but talking about the ways in which the "old" liberal arts change into something totally new. Like reading, which has to go way beyond the Dick and Jane days and become an art of its own. It's not enough to be able to read a sentence, we have to read photos, infographics, captions, commentary, gesture, in person, on TV, and on the web, and we have to do it fast. We have to be able to read a person's background and agenda in their talking points, and be able to separate what's useful from the filler. And we have to be able to read the news ticker at the bottom of the screen while we're doing it.

Is this laundry list, then, going to act as the definition, or are you trying to also derive some sort of modern definition of liberal arts? Does that mean there are things/areas/topics which are definitely *not* liberal arts?

Posted by: Theresa M. on February 2, 2009 at 07:14 AM

Search: Finding the information that you need and want in ever more convoluted data streams. Searching as a liberal art must go beyond what is popular to find out what is true and more importantly, relevant. Google, RSS feeds and sites like digg are the first manifestations of this, but ever more complex systems will emerge as they are required and as human consciousness and thought patterns shift to accommodate new realities.

@Theresa: We'll see what emerges! I think we're more interested in enumerating a bunch of possibilities than saying definitively what is and isn't on the list... but at the same time, we'll probably get Tim to write a little bit about the history of the liberal arts, and then connect that to today.

@Lisa: I love it! Really feels like a liberal art, too -- applicable to almost everything.

Love this idea. I have 2 things - one more conventional (maybe) and one a little more off the wall.

First - Internet Archivist/Anthropologist. Essentially a memetracker + historian watching places like 4chan or Youtube's popular page and creating a record of how or why stuff blows up online. The information all exsist out there but it needs to be curated - maybe in some sort of online museum or something. I can't believe no one's doing this in any sort of meaningful way yet - probably because they can't find a way to make money off of it.

Then - Personality Evolutionist - I think soon there will exsist a study of how personalities change over time. Of course, our personalities have always changed over time but never before have we had such a written record of multiple years of our lives. I go back and look at stuff that I wrote years ago and am both embarrassed and enthralled at it. Just like when you discover an old journal and relish in your ego at the time (and hope that it has changed) so would happen with old websites, blogs, twitter accounts, etc. Of course, the difference is that all of those are availible to the public and therefore a matter of record.

Again, love this idea.

I call for a moratorium on the study of liberal arts.

There is a vicious lie being told to the youth of America. The lie is spread in our homes and schools. Our youth are being told that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. As a result, we have a nation of young adults with useless English degrees, massive student loans, and jobs in the barista, waitstaff, and telemarketing industries.

If we have any chance of pulling this nation out of its economic death-spiral and paying off the massive national debt, we cannot afford the luxury of wasting more resources on liberal arts. We need a vibrant nation of students learning about the sciences, engineering, medicine, and law.

We can lift the moratorium when we have the luxury of spending brain cycles on such topics again. But with the looming global climate crisis, 900 million people without access to safe drinking water, and refugee crises caused by kneejerk responses to fundamentalist ideologies, there is absolutely no room for folks to be writing PhD dissertations about Thoreau.

We have a new President that doesn't believe in superstitious trickle-down economic bullshit. It's time to harness that opportunity; time for everyone to get behind him and power the new economy.

@Jeffrey: The anti-liberal-arts as new liberal arts! Provocative. I like it. I also like your formulation of the "barista, waitstaff, and telemarketing" class :-)

I'd imagine everyone would say coding/hacking, so I'll try a meta-art: "realize and reify." Make a whole discipline devoted to moving ideas and materials from online networks to off and vice-versa, building links and connections between the two, blurring the lines; there should be a set of universally available techniques and easy tools to allow anyone of modest education to connect something physical to a network, or take a electronic object and make it physical.

As I anticipated by the archivist / search comments above, I think that Digital Curator, would be a popular degree, since we will need people to preserve and acquire specialized knowledge about certain online niches.

But as a more "artsy" degree, I think there needs to be something equivalent to a school of drama for the Internet (Online Theatre School). For instance, imagine if someone (or some group) launched a full group of fictional twitter characters (who don't come from other existing shows or books) who all interacted together to form a story line? For instance, what if the fictional universe of Mad Men on Twitter came before the TV show?

My home base is James Joyce and AI, with a minor in game AI, and what I find most valuable in the old liberal arts is the assumption of shared 'good taste' that's a function of maturity, breadth of experience, and outgrowing personal ego. Digital culture has a long way to go to match this, especially because the tools are unintuitive and distracting. Digital creativity tends towards genres (scifi, surrealism, fantasy) rather than universal art.

I see an eventual unification of the liberal arts growing out of the topics that game AI is currently wrestling with-- what are the dimensions of human personality and storytelling.

Cool idea.

It's pretty general, but I think web-logging should be considered a new liberal art. It molds together so many aspects of human intellect, creativity, and design. When I think of old liberal arts, there's so many connections (grammar, rhetoric, logic) that have been achieved digitally. You can also extrapolate from the visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture). Blogging text and design can find roots in all these areas.

Haha - I had a similar reaction as @Jeffrey - when Robin first mentioned the project to me my mind went immediately to 'What new fields can young undergraduates get degrees in that they will find no practical application for in the working world?' The philosophy of the mash-up? Late 20th century European critical theory? Encyclopedic knowledge of television sitcoms from the 1980s and 1990s? (We had one of those guys in our high school who knew every possible fact about every possible episode of "Saved By The Bell".)

Though - in all seriousness - what about the art of multitasking? Efficient division of one's own attention?

Among my nominations for the canon is the study of play. Play is as essential to human development as language, but it tends to get dismissed as, er, play. The industry around play is massive, yet the theoretics of play are still completely obscure. As lifespans increase and work bleeds into play in all sorts of interesting ways, a better understanding of play — why we do it, what we get from it, how it works — grows more valuable.

Here's a radical thought. Home economics. Cooking for yourself. Growing food for yourself. Making clothing for yourself. Why are these things important enough to be included as a "liberal art"? One word: sustainability. We all need to do our part to shrink our footprint, but many of us have no idea how, and for most people born after 1960 (or so) it's not something they learned in the home, either. That's my two cents.

Posted by: Jennifer on February 2, 2009 at 11:36 AM

I believe this is a much needed discussion and I'm glad we're having it. Of late, I keep hearing that we need to strengthen our Math, Science, and Technology programs in schools--because it is those fields that will help future generations the most. And this kind of thinking both worries me and irritates me.

Which brings me to a suggestion for another liberal art: Non-traditional problem solving (or creative problem solving?) involving humanistic, holistic, and global critical thinking and analysis, as well as logical/rational, emotional, philosophical, technological...etc., evaluation.

Creative people make the best problem solvers--and many times they don't use the scientific method, mathematical proofs, formulas, control groups, statistical research and experiments.

Posted by: Theresa M. on February 2, 2009 at 11:49 AM

I'm not sure if it's a liberal art, or more of a "life skill," but social networking is something that people need to know about. it's prevalent in every new (or newly refreshed) product on the internet, from Twitter to flickr to Facebook the New York Times.
There's the whole privacy thing to learn about.
There's how to represent yourself in a positive way, maybe to advance your career, as far as networking and getting to know the right people.
Know when people are trying to use social networking to get other people to do work for them selfishly - drum up sympathy when none is really warranted.
Know how to use social networking to help further a cause - similar to the previous example, but for a good cause?
Blogging vs. microblogging vs. status updating
Supplying the right amounts of information.

@echan: Of course! I love the idea that online entertainment is, in general, more like live theater than it is like, say, filmmaking.

@jon_hansen: And there's a neat public dimension. Having a blog (generally) implies it's out there in the open, so some of the skills you learn are thinking, writing, & making connections in public.

@Jennifer: I love that b/c it feels subversive! You're taking a discipline long considered to be way outside the domain of the liberal arts and saying "nope, actually, this is essential."

@Theresa: Yeah! I like the idea of a student trained to unleash a whole arsenal of different dimensions, approaches and filters on a problem -- like a radio auto-seeking across different frequencies to find the strongest signal.

Like Theresa, I don't have a whole lot of patience with the idea that math, science, engineering, medicine, and law are the only things worth studying. I think this functions as a kind of "black box" argument, where we can group a bunch of things that most people don't understand very well and push them on kids with the hope that something good comes out of it. "Let's train a bunch of engineers, so they can... I don't know... engineer something!" (Sorry, Jeffrey.)

It's all the more frustrating because it amounts to ignoring the actual problems we have, even in the fields of medicine, technology, et al. We're not suffering from a shortage of medical students or even good doctors. We're suffering from bad information collection and dispersal, bad economics, and bad political choices. Likewise, we can ALREADY engineer the hell out of a microchip. But we don't know what to put these chips in or on or how best to make sense of the information that they process.

This doesn't mean that the Thoreau-dissertators can come in and solve the problems either. But it does mean that training in the liberal arts -- which always, always has included training in mathematics and sciences in addition to skills associated with reading and writing -- is both necessary for understanding the situation we're in, needed if we're going to get through it, and in need of overhaul if we're going to get out of it in one piece.

That at least is what this mathematician/teacher/writer/litterateur thinks.

@Jennifer: Let's put the "economics" back in "home economics"! Because it's not really just about the home anymore -- you have to think about the broader connections of the organization of your daily life to global operations, histories, labor, politics, geology and ecology. And that is home economics as a liberal art.

@Ben: I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of porting material between the online and offline worlds, so I love this.

The metaphor I use is of the all-in-one machine -- when you take something from the offline world and put it online, you "scan"; and when you take something from the online/digital world and make it a physical object, you "print." (Online-to-online has its own analogues, too -- "copying" and "faxing.")

@ Gavin P and kevin.: Robin talked about "personal branding"; sometimes I think about this as "identity management."

It's like we've got these databases of our music, our projects, our favorite places to read and shop -- and then we have these databases of ourselves! our friends and likes and dislikes, our affiliations and accomplishments, our biographical data, our thoughts and ideas and daily lives.

It can't be an accident that knowledge workers and other people who spend a lot of time in front of their computers start to shape their identities in this way.

Analog Creativity + Digital Creativity
-primary (original)
-secondary (derivative)
-hybrid (both primary and secondary)

@Matt: I've been trying to think about this for a while too -- and maybe "play" is the best word to talk about it! Kottke has "video games," which seems like both too little and too much.

But something that suggests games and sports and goofing off and working out and role-playing and sex and casual recreation all at once -- you could say that this very much gets you back to the original idea of the liberal arts, which is the things that you learned for their own sake, as opposed to the techne or practical arts.

A reply to @Tim:

First off, some of your facts are wrong. The American Medical Association recently admitted its projections were wrong and now anticipates a major shortage of physicians by 2020.

Similarly, our scientific and engineering graduate programs are very well-attended... by non-Americans. These students get advanced degrees and then leave the country, which doesn't help our economy. We need to get Americans excited about studying advanced sciences too.

[Increasing opinion-to-fact ratio... now]

You wisely note that computer engineers are very good at designing fast microchips. But how do those microchips get power? More and more, they are powered by a laptop battery, and rechargeable battery technology BLOWS across the map. Batteries everywhere are too big, not powerful enough, and an environmental disaster. Likewise, how do those batteries get charged? From your AC power outlet, which gets its energy primarily from nuclear fission plants and burning coal. Why aren't we all running on cleaner nuclear fusion power yet? Because 1) the U.S. considers warmongering a higher priority than advanced energy research, and 2) we're not raising the next generation of scientists and engineers.

In short, there are plenty of engineering problems to be solved, and not enough engineers.

I don't mean to completely hate on the liberal arts. I am glad there are film students making cool films, and I'm glad there are film critics who tell me what I should see. I love the flow of new books coming out, and I like the blagosphere's analysis of those books. But by telling kids that they can be whatever they want, you encourage too many kids to join these fields, and our economy suffers. We need to change this harmful rhetoric, and instead tell kids they have a duty to help the world.

While I'm here, I'll bring up a couple of tangents that I didn't bring up in my last comment:

* Has anyone calculated how much of our national GDP is made up of Six Sigma analysts and other process-oriented careers? I think the number would shock us all, considering how little added value such folks create.

* I originally wrote "barista, waitstaff, telemarketing, and preaching industries". It was going to feed into a ouroboros of preachers telling their congregations that science->scientists->EVILUTIONISTS which leads to a nationwide drop in science and engineering education. However, it detracted from my main message. Still, worth thinking about, no?

Your loving mathematician-turned-software-engineer,

Pitching in another one: I think organizing is a new liberal art. Or maybe coordination is a better word. But the idea is: Can you quickly organize a group of people, online or in the real world or both, to accomplish some task? How good are you at "ad-hocracy"?

This is Clay Shirky territory, and I think it's totally a new liberal art.

A few rushed, off the cuff thoughts:

@Gavin is roughly right about what he called "reading" or more specifically, "hermeneutics" which is essentially the art of reading. But I would argue that it isn't new and has been around, albeit different (but not more simplistic) forms since the times of Augustine of Hippo. For instance, he was well versed in rhetoric (his Latin alone, betrays this) and his work "On Christian Doctrine" is essential a primer on how to read the Bible. Now this is markedly differently than contemporary biblical hermeneutics (and has caused all sorts of problems in contemporary thinking) but is essentially concerned with all of Gavin's concerns in the broadest sense.

That said, Derrida's delectably self-referential statement, "there is nothing outside of the text" implies that in the most "meta" sense Gavin is correct. The point is particularly salient in a world of geographic collapse (cells phones, planes, cars, email, etc.) where differing cultures, even language groups, find themselves interacting. The need for better ability to "read" becomes essential and this is why design could arguable be a liberal art.

Design is not only a way to organize data more intelligently, it can do so in a plurality of media, particularly visual media which can often communicate across language barriers.

Much of this, however, can really be put under a subset of philosophy called "epistemology" or the study of how we know. A good springboard for that argument would be David Gray's ideas about The Whirl.

This is absolutely what the Creative Industries is all about:

Creative Industries

As a guy with a liberal arts education. I have to say that the new liberal arts is really no different from the old liberal arts.

It's about learning how to learn. Some people do this naturally, others need (lots) of coaching.

If you can think critically, reverse engineering becomes a natural part of your daily life. You don't need a lesson in sewing, you get a needle and thread and a library card. (Ask DFW)

That being said, I'd like to see a class called:
Creating Everything - Every class starts with an item. The class then attempts to dissect the item and figure out what makes it tick. Then you're graded on how well you did. Maybe you did better?

@Paul: That's a wonderful idea. And you could also learn not just how it works, but how it's produced: where the parts come from, who produced them, etc. Like those great stories newspaper sometimes do tracing a single product back to its origin, except you're making a whole discipline out of it.

the mandate of liberal arts training is to produce people who are multifaceted (like Odysseus, many-wayed), who can find their way in any company, who are interesting to be around, who become passionate about one or many things, who keep on learning, who have the ability to think critically about things. this mandate hasn't changed, though i suspect many people enrolled in liberal arts colleges don't understand why the liberal arts are important, and many liberal arts training programmes have lost sight of their mandate as well. if all a liberal arts graduate can do is be a telemarketer or barista, there's a problem, and it's not with the liberal arts properly conceived.

in any case, most liberal arts curricula are not designed with the end-goal of preparing individuals for specific professions or imparting concrete sets of skills (like engineering or law or programming) but training people to be inclined to learn what they need to learn to do what they want to do. teaching professional knowledge and concrete skill sets might be a path to teaching liberating precepts, but it would be a mistake to confuse the two.

@vt: So any ideas as to how we could we re-frame, re-package, or re-constitute some of the liberal arts to help students in those programs understand what it is they're really up to?

@paul -- i saw your comment after finishing mine. i think its a great idea too.

For me it's Synthesis. Sure, we have new ways of reading and thinking and knowing, but the pinnacle is that new outcomes stem from all of those new inputs.

It's not just about mashups, making, and 2.0, but about a general uptick in the metaphorical and real (substitutive or commutative) cross-application of disciplines brought about by broader and deeper access to human knowledge. As the range of human tools expands, so does the need to understand how to usefully apply them to constructive ends. We have a deeply-embedded connection to our tools, but there is a skill involved in expanding their application beyond obvious uses.

I'm not foolish enough to think there is something new in the way we combine ideas today. But, there has clearly been a change in our raw material. We have achieved a sort of critical mass that did not exist in the days of Socrates; we have broad-reaching (if insufficient) public education and a public knowledge network that is saturated with both problems and problem-solvers. Fifteen years ago, one might have hired a specialist to diagnose and solve a technical problem around the house. Now, we leverage the fact that few human problems are unique to quickly solve many of these problems for ourselves. That's the value in public product reviews. The public brain can help eliminate bad choices and select good ones -- often both quickly and efficiently.

With this saturated market of problems and problem-solvers, the real standouts are the problem-solvers who are able to map unsolved problems to comparable solved problems, and derive solutions therefrom. Eviscerate the cruft from blogging and text-messaging and you get twitter; and from there a thousand niche problems that need their own innovators. As the market has shown, those innovators arise, and the best have tweaked old ideas for new use.

In this environment, there are a number of problem-solving methods that can be applied. The trick is selecting and applying the right one. While problem-solving is an important part of any discipline, I personally believe enough benefit exists for Synthesis to be treated as its own Liberal Art 2.0.

And now that I've read the preceding are some ideas:

* Communication. Persuasive, descriptive, listening, comprehension, integration, reframing arguments, research.

* Flexibility. Being able to extract core skills or core factors and apply them to different situations. Adaptability.

* Cross-cultural interaction. How do different cultures operate? Why do they do so? What common misunderstandings occur between cultures? How do other cultures frame their lives?

* Opportunity creation. How to start projects. How to find people to join you. Influence-building. Leadership. Group coordination. Project management.

* Spirituality. How do people connect with each other, with spirit, with the universe? What are the differences between a pantheist, an atheist, a deist, a monotheist, a panentheist? How have different religions evolved throughout the ages? How does culture and local history influence religious and spiritual thought, and vice-versa?

How about this, adding a component to sociology called
"Electronic Virology" or the study of how something becomes or more importantly stays popular on the interwebs.

Most of these suggestions are not liberal arts, they are skills, like learning a trade in high school (shop anyone?)

I'd like to see are a return to teaching and understanding rhetoric, philosophy, especially philosophy of science, political science, psychology, etc. Teach people how to think and process the information they have available.

Posted by: Brian K on February 2, 2009 at 02:38 PM

How to live, shop, purchase, consume, eat, drink and factor in decisions about globalization, social justice, and sustainability.

Posted by: emily on February 2, 2009 at 02:40 PM

Though it isn't necessarily a new liberal art, Critical Thinking certainly should be included as a required skill. It seems to be taught less and less, perhaps assumed to be learned through osmosis while one studies other disciplines.

While those studying the hard sciences do learn these skills, those who study the liberal arts are less inclined to focus on reasoned argument and scientific method. As technology becomes more complicated, those without scientific backgrounds start to see it as something akin to magic.

As we encounter more and more information, critical thinking skills enable us to determine which pieces of that information are accurate and trustworthy, and which are merely propaganda or marketing.

Critical Thinking is a required skill in an age when human knowledge is expanding so rapidly, and an age when anyone with a computer can have their own virtual printing press. It is essential in separating fact from flight of fancy.

@emily - How many credit hours is that class? Yikes :-)

Theater geeks need an upgrade. Let's get improvised theater on the curriculum and start getting talented kids into commercials, cable shows, and movies (all of which are being populated by improvisers).

You can succeed in improvised theater if you're just quick or funny, but the true masters of the art excel in cooperating with their coworkers, advanced levels of trust, deferring judgment, and, oh yeah, classical theater training including a scholarly pursuit of history. Today's well-rounded citizens have to be able to pick up new ideas and see how they can contribute to each one. That's pretty much the definition of improvisation.

@philwells: Improvisation! Of course! I love love love that. I feel like it's so broadly applicable.

I think to salve vt's concern is to ask what is it the New Liberal Arts are trying to do? Are they meant to do the same thing as the Old Liberal Arts? Or are they doing something different?

The Grecian goal of the liberal arts was to in order to become a philosopher, literally "lover of wisdom." This meant the ability to contemplate the highest truths which, as it happened, were abstractions mostly, ideals.

The question is for Liberal Arts 2.0 is whether it is trying to accomplish the same thing, something slightly different, or a radical turn? I suspect it is something similar and something involved with wisdom, a tricky thing to define (just ask Plato).

But if we work with that as a definition then we can't really say that home economics is a liberal art. We can say good home economics stems from the good practice of the liberal arts since it would involve Jennifer's knowledge of global operations, histories, labor, politics, geology and ecology; or, more specifically, knowledge of how to sift and parse all of those perspectives into a wholistic view.

I just now noticed Jonathan's remark, after posting my comment, and I think it is safe to say that Synthesis is nearly synonymous with wisdom in my mind.

Search/Filter/Find - finding people/places/things that tie together for will have to have extensive knowledge not only in history, culture and psychology but current trends and culture. Predictions of consumerism trends through search engines, blogs and more.
The next biggest trend for teens?- look at buying trends, upcoming tv shows, mine databases and search online queries, newest food items, makeup trends,upcoming books and films, all coupled with knowledge of current teen esteem issues.
Extreme predictive patterns.

Echoing what Paul says above, what many of these suggestions (especially Blake and Tiara above) reveal to me is not that we need a new liberal arts, but that we need the liberal arts that we currently have to apply itself to the modern world. As a teacher of cognitive psychology and cognitive science myself, I know that nothing will be solved if cognitive science becomes elevated beyond a class as its own discipline. Cognitive science textbooks can still hash out all of the major findings in cognitive science, including a little "applications" box or sidebar. College classes could cover all of these "disciplines" in the current lecture format.
But what we really need is a new _pedagogy_. A new philosophy of teaching and learning. Or maybe just a reaffirmation of our old values.
We don't need Steve Jobs giving inspiring lectures as the Professor and Dean of the Apple School of Creativity and Innovation, we need the rest of us rank and file professors integrating many of the great creative and innovative suggestions above. We talk about everyday judgment decision-making in my cognitive psychology class (and I mention freakonomics, as well as Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds), but we could probably do more.

Tiara's post above is remarkably close to the goals that Derek Bok laid out in his recent book "Our Underachieving Colleges."

What is sad to me about all of this is not that this is people realizing that their own education (liberal arts or otherwise) didn't live up to your standards, but that it is not living up to its own standards.

I love the idea of teaching synthesis.

This relates to some of the other ideas a few of you have put out there, but it strikes me that lifehacking is a tremendously valuable art/skill that could have a number of professional applications. I'm defining lifehacking as the act of evaluating a system, identifying problems and cheap, easy-to-implement solutions, and putting those solutions in gear. Maybe you could also call it urban survivalism. But the official Gina Trapani-approved lifehacking doctrine incorporates much more than just being able to survive for two weeks trapped alone in an elevator. It's about project management, personal finance, mastering technology (or eschewing it when necessary) and employing psychology.

How about marketing, broadly defined? I've seen advertising and personal branding mentioned, and I see both of those as components of a marketing discipline. I don't just mean this in the "Strategic Communications" sense. I mean the study of how promotional messaging affects and creates culture. Marketing as practiced by al Qaeda. Marketing within high school cliques and human resources departments. Promotional tactics parents use on children, and their effectiveness.

Entertainment is associated with the concepts of fiction and non-fiction. Fiction involves the projection of a willing suspension of disbelief with variables designed to further narrative progression. Indicators of traditional fiction include characterisation, foregrounding, plot and/or sub-plot[s]. Non-fiction is fiction’s logical counterpoint; chronology, history and “fact” play clear parts in non-fiction constructions. There are many variations on the standard fiction/non-fiction dichotomy.

Fiction and non-fiction classifications are designed to map to boundaries of known forms [think: cinema, literature, television and music]. They are so designed to provoke audience responses introspectively and externally. Current synthetic practices are refashioning this entertainment base via the perpetuation of types of unintentional and deliberately augmented recreation. These recreation types are reliant on immediacy of response, play, and Pranksterism. They employ Sandboxing, Gonzoism and spontaneous engagement. This type of entertainment is termed _Presencing_.

Presencing involves loose clusters of pursuits that evolve in, or are associated with, synthetic environments. Examples include the Streisand Effect, Supercutting, Flashmobbing, the Slashdot/Digg Effect, acts by the group Anonymous, Geohashing, Image macro generation and Internet meme threading. Less defined examples include: MMOG guild interactions [think: user generated games-within-games], Virtual World involvements, and Social Networking via application adoption and creation.

Presencing showcases accidental or reflexive entertainment elements where the fictional/non-fictional divide is erased; associated validity qualifiers are also removed and reconceptualised. Amateur production is equated with valued expression. Presencing also offers adaptive potential for augmented attempts at mediating geophysical constraints.

How about massive network penetration theory. No, not SEO or Social Network Marketing, but how that whatever crappy thing becomes popular, it is heralded as being so great, when it is only great because it is already so great.

@Paul, I love "electronic virology."

Pragmatism? Computer/video games? Taxonomic creation? Inaccuracy?

Really, wouldn't an attempted adaptation of academia for a digital world with inexorable innovation - or aggregation of said world in academia - just create cyclical irrelevance?

@Alex: Not just academia! Liberal arts 2.0 exist out here in the wild. And we'll probably be learning them as much from YouTube tutorials as from profs.

Ha ha. I do kinda love "inaccuracy" as a new liberal art, though. Maybe some of this book ought to be satire? New liberal arts that seems to be gaining ground, & we wish they weren't?

Yeah, that is what I was getting at - do kids going into college have such an good understanding of the digital world that it renders such attempts by academia superfluous?

I endorse this satire idea, McSweeney's Internet Tendency definitely needs to be a fundamental text.

OK...totally jumping in here without reading all the comments. Hope I am not duplicating too many ideas...maybe amplifying some instead? My list:

Context acquisition: "I have no idea what that reference was to / what the news is showing / what that concept is / where that place is / who that person it." How to quickly learn about something unknown to connect it to what i do know - and thus expand my understanding and improve my personal Pagerank algorithm.

Self-Revelation: ok, pretentious name, but literally: revealing oneself. information is gathered about you at every turn on the web, let alone the information we volunatarily share with the world on facebook, flickr, etc. Generations from baby boomers on down to millenials have VERY different approaches to the issue currently articulated as "privacy." I would challenge the preference towards withholding information that the term carries, and open the issue up to be more about revealing info about oneself. Specifically how one reveals information about oneself to various audiences. what is public about me? what is private? what is known by what audience subset? what do i reveal to who, and how and when? How to live in an era of 'we live in public'

Local maximum identification: Here I am in ____ city. Where is the best pizza? What bar should I be at? Who's giving a great talk tonight? What is the best use of two hours? two days? two weeks? Sort of a geographic variant of context acquisition.

Digital preservation: one super-necessary skill is how to maintain and not lose one's digital, data, emails, photos. The endless continuous flow of backup, migration, emulation, etc. needed to keep one's digital world useable and ready at hand is totally a new liberal art.

Motivating people in a gift/volunteer/free economy: when there is no authority given through work structure, how to lead?

Authority identification: the forum skill of how to detect when someone knows what they're talking about, and when someone is BSing. I would actually broaden this out to...

Reading between the lines...detecting intent, experience, and emotion in plain text: Life is full of plain text. Was that supposed to be sarcastic? Does that person know what they're talking about? What is their agenda? Am I reacting to a troll? Am I a troll? --> the liberal art of contributing civilly to public semi-anonymous fora.

Habit formation: how to assimilate new/desired capabilities or behaviors

Productivity in an age of distraction: Cory-style. Finding flow, in the Czekmalsalkjsdfdfkjlajfadfajy sense

Editing images and video: seconding this suggestion someone had. This is totally the new typing.

Wow. This is all so exciting. Wow.

I don't think a chapbook would be enough. You'll probably need a whole website!

I think that Activism/Service could be an important new area of study. It's clearly of interest to the generation coming of age right now, but it has it's own sets of problems. Think of the problems of the religious missions of the past: How do we help people we may know little about whether it's the desperately poor in our own community or those from a third-world country?

I envision it as a beautiful collision of sociology, international relations, and business classes. How do you run a non-profit organization? How is it different from a business? How do you run one responsibly and do the most good? Can activism and non-profits do harm? How do we prevent this? What have been the mistakes of such organizations in the past? Case studies: Red Cross, Greenpeace, PETA, Habitat for Humanity, Americorps.

Movement! Human connection through movement. Performance that can be found in the everyday. Spontaneous theater. Public dance spaces. Talking about how you moved as much as what you ate. Thinking critically about the relationship of dance and community. Dancing cross culturally. Dancing on the internet. Contact improvisation. Thinking about tiny movements and how they effect other fields of study. Dance and feminism. Dance and masculinity. Physics of dance. Moving in classrooms.

ok, that was a rant.

How about travel?
Tons of Liberal Arts grads site their time abroad as the most important thing they did in school. Travel made Obama, in many senses (genetic, educational... his general outlook).
It would seem silly to try and teach it, because you just have to do it.
But it seems mind-expanding in the old sense of what the liberal arts were supposed to be. And if I were making a school, it would be mandatory.
I like "travel" more than something vague like "inter-cultural communication and collaboration." It seems like a key part of liberal arts 2.0 is that it involves doing things. Also, it seems like the removal of old barriers marks a lot of what the Liberal Arts 2.0 is (cheap cameras, easy to use graphics software, a return to the vernacular in economics writing). Travel falls under there, too. The barriers just keep dropping.

@lily: Not a rant! I like it. Bringing the physical and the kinesthetic back into the curriculum.

@saleem: I like that a lot, b/c it's an interesting extension (maturation?) of what universities are already doing. Everybody's promoting study abroad, but it's always for sort of vague, mind-expanding reasons... Let's go ahead and turn travel into a full-blown critical thinking exercise. You don't just idly travel -- you observe, you document, you absorb, you synthesize, etc.

With the deluge of frequently decontextualized data available to anyone, it seems like a valuable "new" liberal art would actually be derived from the top levels of Benjamin Bloom's cognitive taxonomy: Synthesis and Evaluation. People studying this more practical branch of epistemology would learn how to organize, relate, summarize and combine information to construct systemic meaning from disparate elements. They'd also be able to appraise, critique, interpret and evaluate existing bodies of collected information. No more of this blogging where "supporting" quotes are pulled out of context from other people's work -- synthesis and evaluation would require crafting new understanding instead of hiding behind pastiche!

Posted by: Lisa S. on February 2, 2009 at 09:18 PM

It's the art of "Self-Promotion." You could specialize in: Linking, Social Networking, Blogging, or have a multidisciplinary specialty.

You'd learn how to push your own brand without seeming like you're pushing your own brand.

The ethics of the intentional overshare.

The risks of blending the personal and professional.

The art of scrubbing your old identity in order to remake yourself.

Many of the old liberal arts had to do with creating something out of essentially nothing. Literature. Chemistry. Engineering. This new liberal art is exactly that. Creating something (Capitol "Y" You!) out of nothing!

How about information overload from the opposite perspective? I see a few posts about search/filter skills but how about presentation skills? A cross of design/UX/typography/etc. Whether its a small spreadsheet or a rich visualization of trends/memes: how do you present loads of information in the most concise, useful and quickly accessible fashion? The mixture of visual, functional and information design, i suppose.

Agree with @Matt on marketing more broadly defined. The idea of thinking about (and influencing) your audience no matter what the communication is... even if you're just targeting you friends about how cool your weekend was with a short tweet. There is probably a flip side to that involving communication with an audience that can talk back. Sort of like a degree in Online Community Management or something. How do you pacify or engage your audience? How do you influence them to do it for you?

Much of what I'm seeing suggested (including my own first comment) could possibly fall within the modern liberal arts curriculum (as defined in Wikipedia): art, literature, languages, philosophy, politics, history, mathematics, and science.

I'm noticing some crossover from other disciplines (i.e. business: several people wanting to include forms of business or economics) which then suggests, do we broaden the definition of liberal arts to include these disciplines (which in classical antiquity, seem topics reserved for a select few; the free man vs. the slave)?

Since the traditional objective of the liberal arts curriculum is (again Wikipedia) "imparting general knowledge and developing intellectual capacities," one could argue that the expansion of this definition could evolve in parallel as knowledge becomes more readily available to a society, given that this knowledge adds a competitive advantage to the survival of the society.

Very cool idea.

Personal responsibility for health. People in this world are getting fatter by eating too much, eating unhealthy food, and not exercising. Knowing the consequences and learning how to make healthy choices is going to become very important in the near future.

Could I also suggest Human Relationships and Sexuality?

- How people relate with each other
- How relationships are expressed (platonic, sexual, intellectual, career, etc)
- Sex work and how it fits in the relationship continuum
- Forms of relationships, from the normal to the unusual
- Expectations in relationships
- Understanding other perspectives

A New Liberal Art that is also an ancient liberal art is the connecting of thought, intuition and communication through the ether of experience. I'm talking about listening, interpreting, digesting and sharing through the myriad communication tools we have within us as well as the material tools available. Perhaps we start with the stories from the ancients, the musings of the natural world, the wafts of information we extrude from dreams - add our harmonics and send it out using whatever means we wish - pure thought, meditation, singing, dancing, cooking, drawing, movie-making, writing, coding, de-coding, etc.

We include the disenfranchised, the heretofore semi-voiceless - animals, insects, plants, our own heartSongs. We build a network of allowance - that is both inclusive and expansive. Giddyup!

Multi-media blogging

Audio track mixing and sampling

How about an updated look at Music.

What is Music? What makes you a Musician? With the increasing amount of technology available for manipulating and creating Music (Garageband, Guitar Hero, Electroplankton, Wii Music, and all the iPhone apps), it's no longer only those who can sing or play instruments on the creative side.

I personally am waiting for the release of Sax God, where I can blow in my plastic saxophone-like controller, and press the right keys on the way to virtual superstardom.

I'm going to re-amplify a few of the ideas I already put in the other thread.

Oh, and one important frame: when I say "new," I generally mean something like "since about 1850." Sorry. It can't be helped.

But! the reason why I do that is that I think these are things that are emergent and evolving over the past century-plus, but that it's only NOW (that is, right now) that we're really coming to grips with how they've changed us and our world.

1) PHOTOGRAPHY: Part of the new liberal arts is learning how to read, write, and understand images as well as we can read, write, and understand letters. Photography isn't just a medium, although it includes still and moving images, celluloid film, magnetic type, and digital bits and bytes. It's the science of light and verisimilitude and reproduction, of 2-d iconic-indexical representations of the physical world, of the synchronicity of sound and image, and of re-presentations, in the form of lithographs, prints, cinema, television, newspapers, Flickr, and Skype.

2) JOURNALISM: Journalism is the science of the now. (Literature: Painting :: Journalism: Photography.) We require a different set of skills to understand, produce, transmit, and re-transmit the reporting of fact and thought in its emergence than in its crystallization. It has its own logic, grammar, and rhetoric. It's an industry with its own ethics and standards across multiple media: print, television, documentary film and photography, oral report, community forums, weblogging. It's a practice that is universal, democratic, and can be taken up by anyone.

3) DESIGN: If art and aesthetics are the contemplation of form and beauty considered independently from its use, then design is the science where form, beauty, and usefulness are either capable of being considered interdependently or cannot but be considered so. Design is a big science, including visual and graphic design, materials and industrial design, architecture, processes, algorithms. I say, so what? You think "natural sciences" or "art" aren't already pretty big disciplines too?

I like big-tent categories because they allow us to think of big, meta-ideas, of deeper interconnections between phenomena that are too easy to split up, and they force us to make our distinctions count -- we can't just subdivide and subdivide every time an apparent distinction presents itself. You have to think about how far a single big idea can take you, and then to think its limit.

In the English department there has been a great butting of heads between the classic skill of writing essays and the new generation's ability and willingness to plagiarize. But plagiarism has sprouted from being a simple copy/paste of an essay to a piecemeal effort, forming complete arguments from elements found all over the web. Sometimes, the skills used to avoid work end up being the more useful skills in the real world--I propose a course in Effective Plagiarism, or less offensively, Information Gathering and Reporting.

If your boss asks you to make a presentation on how gas prices are influencing your business, you might pull historic gas price data, arguments from global warming experts, car manufacturing data and trends, your internal gas usage info and revenue numbers, and more. Students should have the ability to LOCATE and COLLATE these disparate details into a comprehensive, focused report. Further, students should be made aware of how a POINT OF VIEW can be put across by the selection and omission of certain data points and sources.

The course would cover statistical arguments as in this example, and also how to argue in literary papers effectively using vast swaths of paraphrased material. The goal will be to form a central thesis and then back it up with speed and efficiency. Students will be graded on the effectiveness of their arguments and the variety of their sources.

I think Jason D's "Self-Promotion" idea is a good one, but I think it could fall under the umbrella of a plain old "Promotion" discipline. "Promotion 101" could start with a history of promotion from newspapers to the beginning of the advertising age to corporate sponsorship to the dawn of MTV up through social media today. From there, focuses would include much of the same as Jason D's self-promotion, but in addition to focusing at times on oneself, the discipline could also discuss the role of promotion throughout the rest of our lives.

Throughout all of our days in modern America, we are bombarded with promotion. Be it from Nike who's trying to sell you sneakers, from Chevy who's tweeting about their new cars or from the graffiti artist who's tagging up your bodega, people and companies are constantly trying to get the rest of the world to see things from their perspective on life or on a product or on a piece of music or whatever through their methods of promoting themselves.

What I'm trying to say is that as important as developing the skills to market oneself is in the modern era, we must all understand the role of promotion in society...

Part of me thinks that an intro-level internet studies course would be necessary in any of these disciplines; would there would be a need to create a discipline focused specifically on internet studies, or would that be too broad? It's unclear where Social Media is going, but that could be an interesting focus as well.

What I love about all the new ideas that are being thrown around here is that unlike much of the liberal arts curriculum today, most of the new disciplines are either very modern and still changing or are focused directly on developing a skill. So much of what I studied at the liberal arts college I went to was rooted in the past, and I think that looking back to the far past on what's happened is without merit without studying the modern era and developing the tools to exist in the modern era.

I understand the argument that developing a skill set is not the purpose of a liberal arts education...yet, the most important things I learned in college were the skills of critical thinking and research methods, both of which were cultivated through the study of several different disciplines.

Rather than talk about what liberal arts isn't, what is the mission of a liberal arts education? Isn't the mission of a liberal arts education to expose the pupil to a wide range of disciplines and topics in some detail so they can:
a) Develop the ability to think, read, and write critically
b) Develop additional skill set within one's discipline
c) Become well-versed in a variety of subjects
d) If they haven't already, figure out what they're interested in, through their wide exposure to several disciplines

And if these are, at least part of, the mission of a liberal arts education, then why limit said education to math, social sciences, humanities and physical sciences? Why not include several disciplines, like the visual arts (graphic design, photography, viral video-ology) and internet studies, that will allow the individual to develop a different skill set that will encourage personal professional success AND expose them to the disciplines of the internet era that will continue to shape their lives for the foreseeable future?

Lately I've been spending lots of time sorting through the complex strands of urban growth and development issues, and it strikes me exactly how much of the texture of everyday life is determined in these obscure municipal backchannels. Think about it: everything from the aesthetic character of your neighborhood to the closing time of your coffee shop is probably being hashed out by time-advantaged retirees on a random weeknight somewhere in your town. Awesome and/or lame businesses don't spring up in your neighborhood by accident, they're cultivated in networks fed by chambers of commerce and local development councils.

If part of the purpose of the new liberal arts is to prepare its disciples to optimize their world, I wonder if there's room for re-imagining civics? I'm thinking something that borrows some of what you're getting at in your idea of teaching organizing, Robin, but with a slightly different pitch. You might call it "community engineering."

Don't know if this was already mentioned, but mashups (or for a link between old and new liberal arts, detournment) is a great parallel discipline to the digital curator ideas floated early in the thread. This liberal art would include remixing for entertainment purposes as well as productivity-oriented mashups, visualizing and juxtaposing data in new and different ways.

Posted by: Dylan on February 3, 2009 at 08:51 AM

You mentioned design as a liberal art. In case you have not seen it already, I am particularly fond of this argument in favor of design as a liberal art:

(Email me you have trouble obtaining a copy of it.)

The historical grounding of his work makes it, in my opinion, particularly interesting.

CHINESE: the Internet is far from an English-only language environment, and the Chinese web is a tremendously intricate, energetic, and occasionally secretive community where fenqing (angry nationalist youth) struggle against ziyou zhuyizhe (Westernized liberal democrats), web site administrators can be arrested for hosting pornographic content (but hardcore pornography of famous actors and actresses abounds), and the government carries out a rolling blackout of terms, ideas and sites -- which often, through the use of code or other means, persists.

EXAMPLE: This morning someone at Cambridge threw a shoe at the premier of China, Wen Jiabao -- at nationalist sites, it is possible to discuss this event (with the expectation that most posts will aggressively blame the colonial-style moral patriarchy of the British), but at others, it is forbidden. At these sites, the last ten hours have seen large numbers of comments praising the /original/ Baghdad shoe-thrower, with the expectation possibly being that this praise should extend to the thrower at Cambridge.

-- Extremely strong courses in written /and/ spoken Chinese -- application of the spoken language is the only efficient way to type in Chinese.
-- Strong background in history and politics: the Chinese web plays itself out through the use of historical allegory, classical reference, and political insinuation. Participants have strong shared backgrounds and apply those to their conversation.
-- Willingness to abandon the assumptions of Western/American ideologies in order to understand other voices: not every 'regular citizen' in the world wants civil rights and the vote, some would eagerly trade these things for a strong nation and international respect; the pressures of the economy at the most basic level, including food and housing, can effortlessly trump some of the priorities we hold dear, such as environmental protection and individual rights. Finally, a government can be as intimately threatened by its supporters as it can be by its detractors -- 21st century nationalism in China clashes strongly with the globalizing impulses of its own government.

I can teach it! Somebody email me.

Posted by: Nick on February 3, 2009 at 09:09 AM

I wanted to pull out Chris' plug for digital archiving and Gavin's plug for Internet archivists and connect it with the folks calling for the inclusion of some sort of discipline around synthesis.

"Library science" is a fusty old term that increasingly fails to fit an ever-expanding and ever-more-important range of skills. "Knowledge management" is weighed down by the awful word "management." In Matt University, we'd rebrand it "knowledge mastery" or something similarly grandiose. After all, this is becoming critical. How do we capture, structure, sift and preserve enormous bodies of information?

I think web-logging/blogging/whatever you choose to call it should be included but under a much broader concept: SHARING.

Today, especially online, sharing can be a borderline art form. Knowing what type of content (a song vs. a music review vs. a political rant) to share via what mechanism (Twitter, Tumblr, a blog, Facebook, MySpace) can be really challenging because you have to consider multiple audience groups and a whole bunch of other things.

Even with all the above considerations, I still have friends who effortlessly share interesting things about their lives, hobbies, and passions through twitter, tumblr, a personal blog, flickr, facebook, etc. And they all manage to do it without seeming annoying. Sounds like a skill to me.

Posted by: Brandon on February 3, 2009 at 09:26 AM

I'd be curious on Tim's thoughts on this: I haven't seen too many thoughts about how the study of history would evolve for Snark U. I'd argue that many of the best historians - from Thucydides to Charles Tilly (RIP) - not only patch together a host of fragments about the past, they weave them into an insight about human development that invariably has consequences for our future. Could we formally remake "history" in the name of "futurism"? And might there be room under that rubric for the inclusion of science fiction, predictive modelling, and the like?

@Matt: Yeah! Civics 2.0 is so interesting it could almost be a new conversation entirely.

@Brandon: The thing I like about these mentions of "sharing," "promotion," "virality," etc. is that we seem to be saying: It's not enough to be smart and critical and have good ideas. You need to be able to get them out there -- and "out there" can mean your friends or it can mean the world.

After all, Cicero was working in a much smaller world. Not to say it was easy to get your voice heard back then, but I'll bet it was easier, esp. if you were an educated person.

So this particular flavor of new liberal art is, in part, what you get when you start with the old liberal arts... and add 6 billion people.

@Matt: And counterfactual! Which, I guess, fits in with science fiction. Yeah, that should definitely be a part of history. Imagining, in a serious way, how things *could* have been.

@Chris: The ancient liberal art of rhetoric certainly deserves a place in the new liberal arts curriculum and I think your idea of authority-identification is an important update. (Or at least, it's an aspect of the old rhetoric that needs more attention in the contemporary context.)

Of Aristotle's three forms of persuasion--logos (rational argument), pathos (emotional appeal), and ethos (credibility of the arguer)--I think ethos is the one that contemporary audiences handle with the least thoughtfulness. The "ethical appeal," in which the speaker's personal authority/credibility/intelligence/virtue is used as a kind of guarantee of the quality of his or her ideas often goes totally unchallenged. As people try to eliminate some of the opinionated noise of our environment, a kind of hyper-credentialism seems be emerging whereby traditional markers of credibility (fancy degrees) as well as some new ones ("Oprah likes this") give hugely disproportionate weight to the ideas of a small number of people. The internet obviously exerts some meritocratic force here, but it also creates information-glut that produces other effects (anxiety, hurry, etc) that may lead to misplaced deference.

Thinking about new approaches to credibility--how it's achieved, how it's detected, and how it's lost--strikes me as a very important and complicated project.

@Amy: Sometimes I wonder if design is really just a visual form of rhetoric.

What about urbanism and cartography? Thanks to GPS, Google maps, iPhones, geo-tagging cameras, and other location-aware devices, we're using technology to assemble an entirely new understanding of the city and our role in it. And as these technologies become more ubiquitous, they don't only apply to major metropolitan areas. My little sister can observe and map our suburban Ohio neighborhood just as well as I can the Upper Haight.

Looking at some of the previously mentioned Liberal Arts 2.0 - art, design, photography, language (& semiotics), history, economics - they all are relevant to crafting an understanding of the built environment. But I think the reverse is also true: an understanding of the built environment can yield insight into the broadest definitions of fields like design, language, and economics.

I want to see diy architecture/design/fabrication in the curriculum.

I've always wished for a return to the "good ol' days" of architecture. Back when anybody could build anything and not have to have some license or degree.

It seems that with the passage of time groups get enough power that they can declare themselves the only true route to some end and then then get the government to agree and then you have to get a license to do something that really should just be open. It used to be if someone liked your work and wanted you to design their house you just did it.

Now its years of school and classes that reinforce what "the system" wants you to build.



So my idea for a new liberal art would be cooperation, specifically the subtle arts of facilitation, negotiation, presentation, and empathy. Facilitation is a key skill in an age where almost anything worth doing has to be done with other people; if you don't know how to bridge different perspectives, speak to people outside your immediate worldview, and get things done in meetings, you'll have a hard time producing things of lasting value.

Negotiation is a similarly valuable art; think of this as a kind of practical economics or political science for the small scale. In many cases, coursework in econ or poli sci tries to give you a sense of these massive systems that are frequently unpredictable and uncontrollable, but leaves you without the kind of small-scale skills for making a difference in smaller, local institutions and organizations.

Presentation -- this is such a difficult topic. But the basic essence is this: sharing your ideas with others is hard to do, because your own ideas always make more sense inside your head than they do coming out. It takes real work to make those ideas comprehensible to others -- with the amount of work proportional to the complexity of the idea. "An Inconvenient Truth" was a great example of presentation done well.

Posted by: Matt Penniman on February 3, 2009 at 11:50 AM

@Matt: I love this addition b/c I think a lot of people are really surprised when they leave school & get a job -- even if that job is still in school, e.g. being a professor! -- and find that the two things you just listed make more of a difference than, say, the actual content of their ideas or arguments.

Even in the realm of pure thought -- or near enough -- negotiation and presentation are crucial.

I wonder what the best ways to practice & learn those skills are...?

How about knowledge aggregation, manipulation (not meant in the pejorative), analyzation, and dissemination? I think others have started down this path in various threads, but it seems to me that where we are in the digital age is beyond a place where merely pushing and pulling information around is particularly compelling. While we natter on about it, digital natives are just doing it -- and they think we're a bit odd for bothering to have academic terms for these practices (tagging, feeds, aggregation, etc.), which to them are neither novel nor noteworthy. What will be a true liberal art of the future, it seems to me, is being able to pull together a broad, deep range of information relevant to a topic or area of inquiry, to understand what it is saying, to determine its value, to pull it into a compelling narrative, to build upon it, and to repackage and disseminate their own variant to a broad audience. The traditional models of doing this are shape-shifting. How 21st century individuals create knowledge and find voice will matter both in terms of their polemical prowess and in terms of their ability effectively to use emergent media forms that best further their ideas, and allow individuals with a broad range of interests, tastes, and intellectual backgrounds to find, reuse, and build upon ideas for their own economic, spiritual, personal, intellectual, and political purposes.

So many people have posted about the need for critical thinking! But this is what the traditional liberal arts reinforce over and over again. What about the areas in which Western traditions are weakest: intuitive thinking and mindfulness training? We need to balance the relentless focus on left-brained, logical problem solving with the equally important "art" of introspection, awareness, and associative thinking.

Posted by: Elizabeth Merritt on February 3, 2009 at 12:03 PM

With a nod to Pascal, I would say that it is very important for people to learn how to sit quietly in a room and be alone, without recourse to media of any kind. (Meditation is not required.) I've known many people who cannot do this for more than a few minutes at a time without becoming deeply unsettled. Without this baseline "human-sized" perspective, how do we gauge our perspective on the information available through the new liberal arts?

@Elizabeth: Ah! That's brilliant! Not just critical thinking but... uncritical thinking. Suspension of disbelief when appropriate. Brainstorming, free-association, and idea generation. (Most of us, even "creative people," are actually pretty terrible at this.)

I need to think more about this, but it feels really important.

@Matt T (all three comments, shotgunned up):

1) So, at my old blog, in lieu of "politics," I had this tag called "The Polis." Eventually it had to fork, so I added "Elections."

The idea was/is that there is "politics" at the scale of the party or world history, but that at its heart, what politics is is the art/science of living together in small communities and understanding the interlinked institutions, whether formal or informal, that make all of those possible. This strangely makes politics more immediate and concrete and somehow more idealistic, because you have to think about your own place in the well-being of those immediately around you, not just as a voter or taxpayer or whatever (even though those wind up being part of the process too).

2) Most schools these days call it "library and information science" or sometimes just "information science." The University of Michigan has a School of Information where you can get an master's degree (similar to an MLS/MLIS) or a PhD in various specializations. So "information science" or "information studies" seems to be a totally legit way of talking about this.

3) History! Sweet george, yes. I am hoping that the most thoughtful young historian I know can weigh in. I'll say this -- I think history has to be understood as a way to read/think and a way to write in addition to a set of things that have happened. This is the standard history/historiography distinction, but I think it needs to continue to become radicalized.

There are also so many things still to consider historically. We've already heard pitches about learning object histories. I think we haven't exhausted the history of structures, frames of thought and action. Histories of events and microhistories and new-historical understandings of events and plays and cultural poetics and the whole bit all still matter.

And I think that the idea of historical constellations is point-blank even more awesome and relevant today than it was at the beginning of the century.

@elizabeth/robin: The Greeks had a word for it: thauma, meaning wonder. You can contrast it with skepsis (to criticize/doubt).

Aristotle said that philosophy begins with wonder -- we marvel at the world around us, and desire to know more.

(Great word: "thaumaturge.")

here in portland, i teach dj skills and electronic music creation (loops, etc). it seems like a pretty great way to interact with music -- a few steps above guitar hero and the such. djing and music production require a portion of traditional music theory education (what's 4/4 time, basic understanding of blues chords, uses of percussion, theories of loops and how they fit into the above) and quite a bit of hands on experience in futzing with the sounds. it's less about learning to play a specific instrument (though turntables really can turn into such a thing, and i always compare learning to beatmix to tuning a guitar) and more about finding that the media is malleable. we've all heard way too much about remix culture and mashup culture and all of that, but, honestly, breaking down the barriers of traditional music education and getting people involved /right away/ is pretty great. kinda what the punk ethic was all about -- but 30 years later and wrapped in education. the more we get folks involved in the arts and music, the happier i'll be.

@Bo - I absolutely agree. I've been tossing around this idea of mutlitasking that I was thinking about yesterday - and I feel like the most important aspect of it is the ability to control the straying of your brain. In our digital age, you need to be able to parallel process inputs from a large number of sources, many of which are entirely ambient - but you also need to know how to turn it off. Or laser focus your attention on a single thought or task.

@Bo: I like it. Silence as a liberal art.

This is a really hard thing to articulate, but generally speaking how to "focus your lens".

E.g. in photography I first had to learn that I was interested in it, and next to start the journey in finding my voice (even if I didn't know specifically what that was, just that I had one was/is good enough).

Then there's the technical mumbo jumbo, aka The Rules, of the medium -- super important for establishing a framework and acquiring a set of tools to achieve that voice. For example I could see in my head just what kind of photo I wanted to take but without understanding how the camera worked I couldn't produce that image. With a set of tools you can work within the rules, around them, push them, navigate outside of them ... whatever your flavor.

You can probably extend that to almost anything anyone is interested in / passionate about.

I suggest Lehigh University's South Mountain College, of which I am a current member of. It's a program within our liberal arts college that has no "major", no grades(only written evaluations), no distribution requirements, and is strictly multidisciplinary- students embrace the liberal arts, combine, destroy, and reinvent curricula to create a value added practical intellectual experience. One is literally able to conduct research in any topic they choose(with advising), but much of our research and execution has naturally centered itself around the "liberal arts 2.0".

@Nat: I agree with you on the good 'ol days of architecture. As an architecture major, I don't exactly feel delighted at the fact that it could take the better half of a decade for me to start my career.

first of a few ideas...

+1 to a lot of what @Chris said up above (+1 more for his awesome titles). I could see a grouping of "Local maximum identification" and many of the Search-esque courses into a "Knowing where to look to find what you need to find" category, which of course would be called The Wisdom to Find Knowledge. (Wisdom being things you know that aren't practically applicable and Knowledge being the translation of that into practical usefulness.) So I know when to look on yelp, when to search the twitter feed, when to do a google map street view, and when to dig into the pirate's bay. Basically this is (1) knowing the pools of resources that are available, (2) being able to map any given knowledge gap into the applicable pool, and (3) knowing how to filter through that pool for the tasty nugget.

I'd like to see you put all this together into a cohesive, book-palatable form.

I have a lot of ideas, but I think I have one that includes a lot of comments here (liberal arts += internet stuffs) but is more general.

The idea comes from this list of things I feel everybody should know/be (not in any ranking order):

1. Everybody should know how to program.
2. Everybody should create art AND music.
3. Everybody should know something about creative history.
4. Everybody should know (at least) basic math and science.
5. Everybody should be able to think critically and philosophically about what they do and what others do.
6. Everybody should understand their context.

My emphasis is generally on creation. I feel it's total crap for people to say, "I'm not creative/artistic/musical", etc. They may not be now because they've become a shell of a human being, but once upon a time they were. Everybody is. I deeply believe it's part of being human... we love to create.

Posted by: Aaron McLeran on February 3, 2009 at 03:57 PM

"Exposing in depth: the other side of search" - In a world where searching for and finding the right information is crucial, it's equally important to talk about how we put information out into the world.

At first blush, you might think SEO, or you might discuss creating content for target audiences. These are both important topics, but barely scrape the surface. How do you make content linkable for the long term? How do you harness the power of taxonomies? What technical possibilities arise when every bit of information becoming another node in the giant graph that is the web? How do you start incorporating elements of authority, peer review, and scholarly annotation of source materials?

Will there be a minor in Web Science?

@Aaron: Not only is that a smart formulation... it's sort of beautiful, too.

@Matt: This is reductive and doesn't do your idea justice, but it sounds a little bit like "learning to think like a computer." Because these days we're writing for computers as much as we're writing for other people. Wow.

“Here be dragons!” would be the title of my course in the new liberal art of NAVIGATION. It is known as a phrase used to describe unexplored territories on maps. Students of navigation (or perhaps ‘exploration’) would learn to feel more comfortable while being lost and how to get lost or lose oneself in more fulfilling ways.

I am talking about navigation not just in terms of physical space, but also about digital, relational, and emotional territories.

I think we need the new liberal art of navigation, because even while we live under the mistaken perception that everything is knowable, we also suffer from feeling awash in information that is supposedly already known but feels overwhelming and un-navigable. At the same time, ‘close’ territories may be less explored than ‘far-away’ territories and our experienced sense of geography and relationship rejects any reference to actual physical distance.

Being able to explore the unknown territories in space, relationships, and knowledge areas that often remain invisible and closed off to us, because we lack the courage and competence to venture beyond is a crucial skill for the 21st century.

This suggested liberal art relates to the suggestion of Context acquisition posted by Alex and also to Lily’s suggestion of Travel.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” Dagobert Runes

“Exploration is not so much a covering of surface distance as a study in depth: a fleeting episode, a fragment of landscape or a remark overheard that may provide the only means of understanding and interpreting areas which would otherwise remain barren of meaning.” Claude Levi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques

Posted by: Michele on February 3, 2009 at 04:36 PM

I have been meaning to post this since I saw your request, but didn't find it until now. It seems perfectly on point to me:

from: The Electronic Word
Operating Systems, Attention Structures, and the Edge of Chaos
Excerpts from pages 227-228

In a society based on information, the chief scarce commodity would presumably be information, not goods. But we are drowning in information, not suffering a dearth of it. Dealing with this superabundant flow is sometimes compared to drinking from a firehose. In such a society, the scarcest commodity turns out to be not information but the human attention needed to cope with it.

Intelligenda longa, vita brevis should be a motto of the information age – life is short, but long indeed the list of things to be know in it.

We have in the West a venerable tradition of studying how human attention is created and allocated: the “art of persuasion” which the Greeks called rhetoric. A better definition of rhetoric, in fact, might be “the economics of human attention-structures,” for whenever we “persuade” someone, we do so by getting that person to “look at things from our point of view,” share out attention-structure. It is in the nature of human life that attention should be in short supply, but in an information economy it becomes the crucial scarce commodity. Just as economics has been the study of how we allocate scarce resources in a goods economy, we now will use a variety of rhetoric as the “economics” of human attention-structures. Whatever we choose to call it – and almost certainly our name will not be the now-discredited “rhetoric” – the construction and allocation of attention-structures will be a vital activity in our information society.

It is not as if we haven’t had warning that this new economics has supervened. Was not Pop Art all about the replacement of goods by information as the main scarce commodity in an information society? That was Andy Warhol’s message, however various his medium. So his infatuation with movie stars, and especially with “personalities,” people famous for being famous. So, too, the infatuation with signage that James Rosenquist carried to epic dimension: his immense canvases take the scaling of attention-structures as their great subject. “Target” paintings, preoccupied with central focus, and alphabet paintings, depicting letters as opaque objects rather than transparent symbols, both “imitate” the “information” in an information society. Robert Irwin’s minimalist paintings and environments are all calculated to bring human visual attention to acute self-consciousness. “Happenings” were contrived yet spontaneous and participatory attention-structures. The shift of emphasis from object to beholder in contemporary art and letters bespeaks the same sensitivity to a new scarcity. Indeed, much of the strangeness and “experimentality” of twentieth-century experimental art comes from the relative difficulty of “imitating” human attention as against the objects we attend to.

In this experimental world, a training in rhetoric turns out to be of real use, and an intellectual framework frankly rhetorical condign to describe the society as a whole. In an information society, then, the arts and letters, the “humanities,” move from background to foreground, become essential rather than ornamental, and the “Q” question poses itself with a new urgency.

In the spirit of "not completely thinking things out," here are my rough thoughts regarding the subject of "Liberal Arts 2.0," based on pondering it a bit today for the first time in my entire life. (Also, I haven't gotten a chance yet to read the several hundred other comments already left here, so may be repeating information already mentioned by others.)

As I understand it, "liberal arts" as defined by both the Classical and Modern ages essentially boils down to, "What do most intelligent people believe that other intelligent people ought to know, in order to be a good citizen?" And after thinking about it today, once seeing the old definitions and Snarkmarket's attempt at redefining them, it occurs to me to break the list down into 13 distinct pursuits, grouped into three areas of human knowledge:

1) Knowledge of how society works, including the arts, history, politics and economics, not studied separately but all as one interrelated endeavor, collectively explaining as a whole everything we now know about humans living together in large groups;

2) Knowledge of the "inner reality" of the human brain: language, philosophy, ethics and critical thinking;

and 3) Knowledge of the "outer reality" of the objective world: mathematical sciences, natural sciences, biological sciences, craftmaking and athletics.

If I had a child, and I wanted that child to one day have a full gamut of understanding about what makes a human human, these are the 13 topics I would choose for that child to most study and most learn. Here's hoping that my comment will add a little something to the growing conversation here.

@Michele ching ching. Here's to the new cartography!

I think your suggestion of 'design' actually fits the bill fairly well. A liberal art doesn't require generic or medium-specificity (grammar and rhetoric, for instance, occur in both prose and poetry, the essay, play and novel). A liberal art invokes rules that are freeing, but require disciplined thought to reproduce.

Design, whether graphic, structural (as is exhibited in, say, architecture or urban planning), or procedural (software and some types of games), requires being able to think about how people and system intersect. It's very rhetorical in this light but it's not about persuasion, but about function. It's also fairly modern, since it requires assuming very different models about your audience and the role the creator plays in the work's reception than classical art or writing would.

fwiw, I had a pretty classical liberal arts education, complete with mathematics, classical Greek and music, as well. Then I became a game designer. So I'm probably a bit biased on this.

Posted by: Dizzyjosh on February 3, 2009 at 05:44 PM

@aaron @robin good points. "everyone is born creative; we're all given the same box of crayons in kindergarten" -Leo Burnett

What about Iteration? Perhaps even the idea of preserving your ideas using some kind of version control system? This would include not just wiki-sritinging from outline or sketch through peer-edited interim stages to an ever-evolving final draft, but could also cover the value of permalinking drafts for accountability. It could also touch on rapid prototyping and testing.

The main idea might be: if it's cheap to fail fast and often, what are habits of thought and production that take advantage of that?

Posted by: Heyotwell on February 3, 2009 at 06:22 PM

Remixing Classic Texts

Read a play, novel, or poem closely. Now instead of writing a report about it or taking a test on it, you manipulate it. Sample it. Scratch it. Reinterpret it. Inform it with contemporary culture. Make it relevant to your own experience. Make it relevant to your peers. Make it new. You're a TJ (text jockey).


1. I took the 1862 George Long translation of Marcus Aurelius' “Meditations” (167 AD) and updated/edited/retranslated it.

Book II, 8
Can't read another person's mind? Don't worry. You can still be happy. Oblivious to the way your own mind works? Then there's no way you can be happy.

2. I took Walt Whitman's poetry and added comments from disparate places:

“To You”
Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?

Two lonely people, we were strangers in the night.
Up to the moment when we said our first hello, little did we know
Love was just a glance away, a warm, embracing dance away.
--Frank Sinatra, “Strangers in the Night”

Posted by: Dan Licardo on February 3, 2009 at 06:55 PM

Societal pundit/Diversity coordinator for America

One thing that I'd like to make sure we do is provide students with the tools and thinking ability to criticize CURRENT trends in society. And by current, I don't mean in the past twenty years. I mean in the past week.

We will ALWAYS repeat history if we do nothing but study 19th century history, and ignore the history that will be made next week. We would not have gotten into this quagmire in Iraq if there were more people thinking about tomorrow, and less people thinking about the causes of the war of 1812.

Posted by: Marcus DiPaola on February 3, 2009 at 08:06 PM

Branding. From strategic messaging on Facebook to fashion (brand image) to successful presidential campaigns, and on and on. Branding's the new rhetoric - the art of defining, positioning, influencing, moving others to action.

Also, environmentology, micro- and macro-. Our understanding of and impact on our natural environment.

Posted by: Sasha on February 3, 2009 at 09:42 PM

What about the art of corporate/governmental/social accountability? It seems to me that our current economic downward spiral can be attributed to a mass disregard for fellow human beings. While I'm impressed and inspired by the current call to service, I think it needs to go further. Perhaps a global embrace of the notion to "first do no harm." It's so terribly difficult for humans to consider that their actions, or lack thereof, can have a far reaching and heavy impact on humanity. Professionals, politicians, artists, Tom, Dick, and Harriet could all use a little social schooling. Empathy and awareness... the wave of the future.

Posted by: Amanda on February 3, 2009 at 09:50 PM

Oh my god, you people have way too much time on your hands . ..I can't believe I'm 113 comments behind! So I apologize in advance, but I'm just going to post my spiel first without reading the comments.

Instead of telling you what I think should be the new liberal arts in college, I'm going to describe for you a class I would like to one day teach at my college *prep* school, with the explicit hope that it would directly inspire and empower my students to carve out for themselves a "newer" liberal arts degree.

I thought of calling this class Civitas, but apparently that's already been taught. (The naming theme is related to an existing class for seniors, Humanitas, that's between science and literature and is an exploration of what it means to be human. Classic "old" liberal arts material.) I also call it Quantiative Civics. I see this class partially as relating quantitative/scientific techniques like mapping (both geographic and abstract), database mining, estimation and scenario-modeling to the traditional social sciences of political science, economic science, and sociology. How?

1) Mapping: help students grasp a vision of their world--locally, globallly--not just the physical arrangement of land, people, and resources, but the systematic arrangement of governments, corporations, power, money, process, information. Once you grasp that that complex things can be mapped, you gain the confidence to build those maps and then use them to explore. Doesn't matter if they're mountain passes or the flow of contracts in the Defense department. The whole point of Hypertext was that it made accessible the road to from here to there. More importantly, maps allow you to browse systematically--to be aware of what you don't know and how you can get there if you need to. This is how beats at newspapers were divided up--if you need to make sure you cover every inch of a topic, you need to have a map of it. As a physical, kinesthetic skill it's completely invaluable. If you want to understand the flow of power and rights, it's all about the mapping.

2. Database mining. It's a truism that the new century is not about information, it's about information management. But what does that really mean? It means understanding how information is gathered--what it actually costs, how measurements are made. We teach our kids how to use rulers and build scales and lightmeters, so they understand the limitations behind scientific data. But we don't teach them how give surveys, or read a a bunch of casefiles, or write a webcrawling script. It's also about understanding how to store that information, and browse it, and share it. If you want to understand the complexity of relations, how much variability and how many patterns there are in any large group relating to people, you need to understand and uses databases. The sociology and demographics are all about the databases.

3. Scenario modeling/visualization. The liberal arts, as they currently are, focus on being able to build a rhetorical argument about the future. The future scenario is usually painted in words and exemplified in a few telling anecdotes; its logical basis is a thread of cause and effect that has little room for variable parameters or fuzzy informaton. An ability to take probabilities, project them forward, and build a coherent if fuzzy set of possible future-pictures is crucial to making informed decisions. If you want to think about economics and policy as a citizen, I think this is crucial.

Why do I have this class in mind? Because I think if I had taken it in high school, I would have taken "the new liberal arts" in college. I chose to major in physics in large part b/c it is, in some sense, the ultimate liberal art among the sciences---one of the few fields which still instills in its students the hubris to believe that mastery of this one thing will most flexibly allow mastery of any other thing. I still believe that physics is a good choice for that. It gives a grounding in reality while instilling problem solving, analytical, and creative skills. But I would have liked to supplement it with base of empirical knowlege and skills about society. If I could go back to college today, I might still major in physics, but I would have tossed out a few extra science classes and a few Latin and Religion classes with some more Econ, some serious statistics, some demographics, some geography, some database programming, and some more geography.

I've been thinking about this a lot because our school (my alma mater as well as my current place of employment) is very mission-driven. It was founded to help students develop "intellectual fitness and moral virtue," and is built on ideas about a holistic, experiential education. It's part of the International Round Square league of schools, which have the 5 pillars of Environmental Stewardship, Outdoor Adventure, Education for Democracy, Community Service, and International/Multicultural Awareness. Whenever I ponder the Education for Democracy Pillar, this "Civitas" class comes to mind.

Building off Elizabeth Merritt's comment - the role of magic and ritual. Creating space for spirit and silence. Right-brain, heart, soul. How ancient practices are reimagined in current times. Differences between paganism, New Age, skepticism, etc. Controlling your own power. Symbolism, semiotics. Manifestation. Goal-setting and goal-achieving. Faith and belief. Different cultural perspectives on magic in life. Illusions. Mental tricks and possibilities. Miracles. The edge of reason and physics.

Emotional aptitude. Relating to people. Understanding contexts and perspectives. Treating people as whole beings. Providing counsel and support. Humanity. Inter-connectedness.

(as you can tell, I really love this discussion)

Someone upthread (or possibly in the other thread) mentioned that the *pedagogy* of liberal arts will need to change. This made me wonder - are schools and universities, in their current state, really the best way to teach the New Liberal Arts?

What needs to change in schools and universities?
What new structures can we build to teach the NLA?
What existing structures can we repurpose and reframe for NLAs?
Do we even need structures at all? Is "teaching" even the right word? How about "developing", "collaborating", "investigating", "engaging"?

Education and learning in itself can be a NLA. It's definitely unappreciated. How do people learn? What do we value in education and society, and why? How do you assess students and what expectations do you set on them? What is the teaching and learning process like? How do you teach? How do you learn?

Smells/scents-- an an area lacking in focus and attention (as opposed to other senses, such as sight, which are studied and discussed widely).

Posted by: Christina on February 4, 2009 at 06:48 AM

a. Word Clusters as a New Liberal Art;
b. Image Clusters as a New Liberal Art;
c. Vocabularies as a New Liberal Art;
d. Improvisation as a New Liberal Art; or, taken together, one New Mega Liberal Art.

I doubt that thinking will -- ever -- evolve without these four ingredients considered together. It's not that a term paper, let's say, should be written about these concepts, it's that these concepts should be applied in order to write the term paper, which would lead to a new, improvisational nature of paper writing. Take the vocabulary of Lyn Hejinian (MY LIFE) let's say and the vocabulary of Samuel Beckett (WORSTWARD HO?) and there are ways, my blogging friends, that these vocabularies can be combined to reveal ... well, insights on a John Coltrane or Steve Lacy solo (thinking here of soprano saxophone). To use improvisation to comment on improvisation. How this can be achieved ... I could reveal if you liked this idea.

Cheers, Dan G.

Fair Use & the Ownership of Ideas (copyright in the internet age).

Case studies include GirlTalk (Gregg Gillis) & Perez Hilton.

Posted by: Royd on February 4, 2009 at 07:57 AM

How about Critical Social Relations?

I think any new conceptualization of the liberal arts has to have some place where people get to learn about the workings of power across all axes--class, gender, race, through colonialism and empire, through the medical industrial complex, and others. Then students would also gain the tools to resist and transform such power structures. If you see the liberal arts as ways of learning how to learn about the world, such a foundation would be essential for moving in an increasingly socially stratified and yet highly destabilized class system.

Posted by: Franny on February 4, 2009 at 10:12 AM

I love the line, "Branding's the new rhetoric."

Ownership is also a really good suggestion.

Provocative question: how do marketing and mythology overlap? (I'm especially interested in Tiara's answer to this.) How are they different? Are they?

I get excited by the thought of a global language that, like Hopelandic, isn't so much about the words themselves but the meaning; and not meaning determined by simple definition. Interpretation wouldn't rely on a staunch and limiting recognition of words. There's no pre-defined translation. Emotion, context and simply how you feel when you hear the communication in its various forms are all absolutely equal factors in rendering denotation. It's the return of language to a pure, higher, animalistic form of expression.

Case study: millions of people hear Sigur Ros sing in Hopelandic. What they've heard is essentially gibberish yet it means something to a large number of them. And completely different things too but there's a unification happening. Certain elements like tone will unite most to an extent, i.e if it's sung mournfully, they'll feel sad, and though it's totally shared, each person is totally unlimited in their individual interpretation. On the other hand, the Official Saddest Song In The World (Nothing Compares 2 U) makes everyone really low because they think of somebody they've lost (and maybe... maybe... partly because Sinead O'Connor cries in the video). Open this up so it's not even restricted by musical accompaniment in any form and the potential for totally open, almost Dada-like communication, is even greater.

"how do marketing and mythology overlap?"

Storytelling! (A lot of the above overlap in that aspect. Another NLA?) Using metaphors, parables, associations, symbols to represent and create concepts. How those concepts then convert to rituals. How such concepts and rituals become part of the human psyche, the Collective Unconscious.

To me the main difference is that marketing's created to promote something while mythology's created to explain something. However the end results can definitely be used for either purpose, or even for a different purpose.

On the topic of Digital Archiving/"The other side of search" - At TED2009, Tim Berners Lee implores the world: Open up your data (with the semantic web).

I would have to say that a New Liberal Art could be the Internet and Technology. Why? Everyday college students as well as everyone are turning to the Internet and computers, technological advancements to use in their daily lives. I even would want to want to turn blogging and video-blogging into an art. Seems like everything is going digital. Social interaction line and conversations are being turned up to the extreme levels.

Posted by: Kelvin Oliver on February 5, 2009 at 01:57 PM

Intrinsic devotion of life long learning.

Mortality, or a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach to Death, a basic fact of human existence that shapes our behavior and structures our reality. Every relevant subject from funerary practices to epitaphs to the history of institutional implements of dispensing death to questions as to whether artificial intelligence is artificial life. How our understanding of this Special emphasis to be given to how technological advances in not just the medical sciences but also in the "secondary body" of personal data deliberately as well as unconsciously created by our movement through the apparatus of the information society are altering our notions of living, legacy, posterity, degradation, leaving one world for another etc. Death is a phenomenon / experience it is vitally important for us to keep remember and not control but confront as we continue to discuss our continual outward expansion of our capabilities and "mastery" over our environment. My hope? We here in the West would learn to have a less pathological relationship to our own bodies and help us become better / more conscientious occupiers of the time and space we are allotted in this world.

To echo 80% of the comments above, MEDIA LITERACY is going to be a huge new dimension of education in the future. Under this umbrella will be subjects like...

the information economy
digital languages and linguistics
identity in digital communication
trend hunting
viral memes
the politics of news media
moving image literacy
media production / videomaking
brand literacy / the brand economy
personal branding
the attention economy
pop and sub cultures
the entertainment industry
citizen journalism
digital activism
social networking & social media

"The _____ economy" is a bit of a buzzword right now but I do think the multidisciplinary study of media will become essential within the liberal arts education. Society has always had to play catch up as new platforms and modes of information exchange become available. In some ways, the misinformation and frighteningly effective propaganda of the early Bush years could be attributed a society that was consuming information at a new level without the experience to analyze it, create competing media, or organize effectively in the online space. Of course we caught up, our efforts culminating in Obama's Campaign 2.0.

@Sasha I agree that we underestimate how integral brands will become to our language/thinking/society. We already consume branded media, create and promote our personal brands, vote for brands (Obama voted Ad Age's "Brand of the Year" for 2008), etc etc.

Personal branding will become so crucial to a young person's career that it will be taught in high school as a part of the college application process. In college, students will learn how to develop their personal brands in light of their future careers, social networks, and lifestyle goals. Now that everyone is a media consumer and creator, universities will owe it to their students to equip them to understand what they are consuming and creating. Studies say that most jobs are won through personal connections, so Facebook and other social networking sites won't be considered juvenile oases of procrastination by universities for much longer. Blogging will become a normal platform for delivering coursework and career councilors will hold workshops on how to market your personal brand online. Friendship and dating will be considered co-branding and commencement speakers will commend graduates on the integrity and long-term potential of their personal brands.

Courses might look a little more like this Parsons class, minus riding bicycles in thongs...

Jeffery's anti-liberal arts comment is plenty snarky but not as sensible as it sounds. We are in the midst of a massive, worldwide financial and economic crisis that was engineered in large part by the kinds of technocrats whom he lauds--by people with advanced degrees in business, law, and economics. If more of these folks had been more liberally educated, rather than trained in a narrow and technical fashion, then we might have avoided some of the worst mistakes of the past decade. His contention that we can't afford liberally educated students is not only cynical (in the worst sense of the word) but also dangerous. Technical mastery might tell us how to do something in very limited sense of the word, but it won't tell us whether we should do it or how to be effective in a larger sense or how to persuade others that it's a worthy goal. (Thoreau, of whom he was dismissive, understood this point.) We need creative, critical, and disciplined thinkers more than ever.

Posted by: David on February 8, 2009 at 09:36 AM

Technological and/or scientific philosophy: essentially an expansion of bioethics, these people, while not required to do experiments, should be able to keep abreast of new published research, and be knowledgeable of philosophical and ethical thinkers of the Eastern and Western canons. They should have their own set of academic journals, news media columns, and other such forums for constant informed, intellectual discussion on the ethical and philosophical ramifications of emerging technologies and data, not only in physical science and engineering, but also sociology, economics, etc. They will serve as lawyers, politicians, watchdogs, and critics to establish policy that harnesses ever-evolving human knowledge for the greatest benefit/least harm to humankind.

One more thing in response to Jeffery. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of his suggested moratorium on the liberal arts (whatever he means by that) is the implication that studying the humanities is intellectually equivalent to denying global warming or buying into intelligent design. I'd guess that the overwhelming majority of liberally educated Americans are favorably inclined towards the sciences, and if they have a worthwhile education, they should have a firm grasp of both the powers and limits of scientific thinking.

Posted by: David on February 8, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Proposed liberal art: Esotericology. People might think it has something to do with ecology, and thus could be pulled along by the green bandwagon. However, the proposed liberal art is about teaching people the world of secrets, the world that is kept from them, whether that world consists of government secrets (classified documents, encrypted communication), Ponzi schemes, autobiographies that turn out to be fiction, programmed misrepresentations of a Nietzschean sort (politicians might call one version of this spinning the news), the source code behind the web pages we read. Since the days of Plato's Seventh Letter, important people have known not to put the most important of their thoughts in plain form, and we do not yet have an advanced hermeneutics capable of dealing with acts of deception that make their appearance under the guise of empowering people, when in fact those acts work against people's own self-interests. Grocery stores put the milk at the back of the store for a reason, and it is not to help you get to your milk faster. Design indeed can be another form of manipulation, and some of the contributions here have called it a subcategory of rhetoric.

I teach at a pretty cool high school. We do an awesome job educating kids to think critically, appreciate solid rhetoric, enjoy thoughtful literature, express themselves artistically, etc. This discussion is so important because even when the liberal arts are still being taught, the new world that we live in demands that we do something with it - not only so that we can support ourselves, but more importantly because so much around around us has abandoned this thinking. As I imagine the application of the thoughtful ideas in this thread to the curriculum at my school, the most useful posts suggest practical ways to acquire and then apply old ideas in new ways. Is it more complicated than this?

Curiosity has always been critical to the success of the liberal arts. The idea is that, through education, you learn how to learn; the content is secondary to the process. The process is secondary to the impulse. But with a world of information two clicks away, the impulse of curiosity finds new outlets, exposes new possibilities.

Lately, I've been curious about coding and decoding. The internet, and operating systems, and tiny devices all respond to programming languages: the kind so few speak. The internet itself is teeming with information in every language—a terrain I can barely traverse, because my searches will only ever turn up tracts written in words I recognize. Parsing a language requires patience—another art?—and parsing the world requires knowing many. A willingness to decode, an urge, can only become more valuable.

The new liberal arts is about awareness: self-awareness, world-awareness, and the connection between the two. It consists of traveling throughout the world, encountering different cultures and their language, beliefs, and customs, and learning how we individually are all connected. It consists of learning about our connection with nature (e.g. plants, animals, climate) and participating in improving that connection. It consists of learning how to balance and make healthy all areas of our lives--mental, physical, emotional, spiritual--and how each area is connected to every other area.

Posted by: Valerie Turner on February 11, 2009 at 07:28 AM

Conflict resolution.

I pontificated on the subject of a new k-12 curriculum last year:

I think the new liberal arts will embrace dance on camera. But to what extent are dance artists willing to subordinate their works to the camera as editor? Is this a concern? How does kinestheic energy created in a live performance transcend into a virtual environment?

Posted by: Gina Sawyer on June 12, 2009 at 07:02 PM

I'm glad Tim made the link to the MLIS degree. I've recently graduated from such a programme and now work as an archivist, trying to bridge the analogue and digital universe.

There is a disconnect with the role of librarians/information managers and their role in the current knowledge society. In 'library school' the same points found here are being discussed endlessly.

The MLIS profession needs to re-brand to reflect its pivotal role in the emerging world of the new liberal arts. Analytical/critical thought and information analysis is at the heart of what a librarian/archivist/info manager can provide.

To weight-in on the 'liberal arts' vs. 'real technical/scientific jobs' I can point to examples and experiences during my MLIS training:

-Evidence based medicine is underutilizing information specialists. Most doctors still turn to dated sources instead of connecting with available medical librarians trained to navigate databases/unconventional sources of info. Public health information is in Second Life as well as a brochure hand-out.

-Locally in my area librarians in schools were replaced with clerks or volunteers. Although teachers can do a great job raising awareness, it's really become a full-time occupation to help students navigate the information landscape.

-Economists, politicians, and a myriad of other 'economy driving' careers must understand social networking and the power of mash-ups. One of the key courses in the MLIS programme is the GIS course. Geographic information is economics.

-One of our courses combined the MBA, MPA, Environmental Studies, Marine Management and MLIS students recognizing that boundaries between disciplines just doesn't exist anymore. There was a lot of resistance, but it was obvious to the Dean of the school that liberal arts folks and money folks had more in common than they may have realized. Interestingly, the assignments all involved sustainability as the core topic which has been raised a number of times.

The New Liberal Artists are already functioning...they are your librarians, archivists and records managers.

Posted by: Jane on July 7, 2009 at 07:27 PM
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