Recovery of the degenerate

German authorities have recovered a cache of modernist paintings from behind a stack of tin cans in a Munich apartment. Many of the works were presumably looted by Nazis as examples of “degenerate” work. You can see one of the recovered Chagalls here.

The pieces were in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, “son of a well-known Nazi-era art dealer.” That “-era” is doing a lot of work in that phrase, one suspects; according to the LAT article, Gurlitt père was “appointed by the Nazi regime” to deal with looted artwork, though the Guardian notes he had lost his post because he was half-Jewish. A complex story, perhaps.

The Guardian also suggests that Gurlitt fils got by over the years by occasionally selling off an unknown masterpiece.

Even very limited experience of the world of collectibles suggests it is full of these dark vortices, open secrets to the cognoscenti but unknown to the wider world, in which strange treasures abide.

I suppose we may be grateful the Nazis did not take the same preservationist attitude to degenerate physics they took to degenerate art. There’s rather a good description of the Nazi “anti-art” displays on Radio 4’s Front Row here.

Moar numberz, please.

Steve Kantrowitz raises an important point in the comments on this post at my personal blog: majors aren’t the whole story. It would be helpful to have access to a longitudinal study of enrollments in the humanities. Although it seems to me that enrollments may be shaped as much by changing university requirements as by student interest, I’m still curious to see that data. Does anyone happen to know where I might find those numbers?

There is no crisis in crisis-mongering, that’s for sure

The New York Times tells us today that undergraduate interest in the humanities is fading. The basis for the claim is the reduction in interest at Stanford, where the humanities claim 45 percent of the faculty but only 15 percent of the students, and Harvard, which has seen a 20 percent decline in humanities majors over the last ten years.

But Stanford and Harvard are both special cases, and Stanford is especially special.

And as my co-blogger Ari Kelman points out, the overall numbers for the humanities don’t look like they’re in quite a crisis. As Ari says, “in 1970-1971, 17.1% of students who received BAs in the United States majored in a humanities discipline. Three decades later, in the midst of the crisis in the humanities we hear so much about, that number had plummeted to 17%.”

Ari’s numbers come from the National Center for Education Statistics, which shows something more genuinely resembling a crisis in the social sciences, which over the same period have gone from 23% of bachelor’s degrees to 16.4% of bachelor’s degrees.

But the NYT article is right about one thing – some administrators and faculty sure want there to be a crisis in the humanities, because that means they can cut the humanities.

The notable phenomenon over the past thirty years seems to be the growth in undergraduate business majors.


A crisis of confidence, redux.

If you’re a fan of what looks like it may well be innumeracy*, the latest installment from The Times in “crisis in the humanities” concern trolling is pretty darned good.

In all fairness, I’ll grant a couple of the author’s premises: many people, including leading humanists, really do feel** like there’s a crisis in the humanities. And there does seem to be a crisis in the humanities at Stanford. Heck, I’ll go one further: in time, that crisis well might become a self-fulfilling prophecy for universities around the United States!

But the numbers, linked here***, suggest that for the moment the crisis largely remains one of confidence. So maybe The Times should write an article about how humanists are neurotic and see doom and gloom wherever they look. The author can interview me!

Really, though, I’d read an article about who’ll benefit from an actual crisis in the humanities and whether those interests are implicated in drumming up this fake crisis.

* Without footnotes or links at The Times, I can’t know if the author is actually innumerate, just confused, or has access to numbers I’ve never seen (and suspect don’t exist).

** Because they read The Times? Because they listen to the Secretary of Education natter on and on and on about STEM? Because their funding is being cut? Who knows?

*** Nobody clicks links these days (because of the crisis in humanities blogging), so here’s the relevant information: Table 289 in The National Center for Education Statistics’s “Digest of Education Statistics” shows degrees granted by field of study for selected years between 1970 and 2010. That table reveals that in 1970-1971, 17.1% of students who received BAs in the United States majored in a humanities discipline. Three decades later, in the midst of the crisis in the humanities we hear so much about, that number had plummeted to 17%.

It’s worth adding that the number of students receiving MAs and PhDs in humanities disciplines has contracted (from 14.6% to 7.9% for MAs and from 6.8% to 4.9% for PhDs).

You shall know their names

California just hit up the Koch brothers for a million bucks. The Koch brothers haven’t admitted hiding behind shell outfits while throwing scads of dollars at initiatives meant to break unions and block tax increases in the Golden State, but the fine is part of a settlement in a case launched to find out if they did so hide and throw.

The California group opposed to public goods wanted big money, so they went to the Kochs on the ground that “nobody in California would want to do this[.]” They appear to have viewed the Kochs as a right-wing money milch cow: “dealing with the Koch network … availability of funds never crossed our mind.”

I love with an unseemly passion the – hastily? purposely? sleepily? – inept redaction that allows the Sacramento Bee to make informed guesses about the other donors to the cause of destroying the state parks and public schools as well as killing labor. These guesses include the family that owns the Gap and “Ventura County businessman Gene Haas, who.… served 16 months in a halfway house in 2008 and 2009 after pleading to conspiracy to commit tax evasion.”

The tax increase that passed is the one that led to the state’s celebrated balanced budget. The million dollar fine might help balance the budget a little, too. Maybe we should hope for some more feckless and shady out of state donations, followed by more fines – then perhaps we could restore California’s public services, including her great universities, to the people who live here instead of eroding them to please ideologues from elsewhere.

False equivalence regarding treason, in the NYT

The state of Georgia will move the statue of populist hero and white supremacist demagogue Tom Watson from its prominent spot near the state capitol. Beautifully, the state claims it’s nothing to do with politics.

“This is just part of an ongoing project to renovate the steps around the State Capitol,” said Paul Melvin, a Georgia Building Authority spokesman. “We’re moving the statue because of the construction. To move it back would be a prohibitive cost that’s not in the budget.”

Republican state representative Tommy Benton sees it differently and blames, well, “them.”

“They’re attempting to whitewash history so that only the things that are pertinent to them are remembered,” Mr. Benton said. “I’m not a big fan of William Sherman’s, but I’m not out there protesting his statues in other states because he did $100 million worth of damage in Georgia.”

The New York Times does its readers a disservice by failing to mention that at the time the vandal William Sherman did this terrible property damage to Georgia, the state was treasonably waging war on the United States of America in defense of slavery. (Tom Watson, who merely supported an unconstitutional form of racial segregation with viciously bigoted rhetoric, was a piker compared to supporters of the rebellion.) Whatever his many failings, Sherman did defend the republic of the United States against the acts of traitors. It is a pity an elected official of the Republican party cannot describe himself as a fan.