Future Humanities

Transforming Graduate Studies for the Future of Canada

Future Humanities was a SSHRC-funded initiative to transform graduate studies in Canada and engage in global discussions about humanities education and training. Founded by Prof. Paul Yachnin and Dr. Leigh Yetter through McGill University’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI), Future Humanities embraces the changing landscape of university education and proposes new ways of confronting the global “crisis in the humanities.”

Future Humanities brought together students, faculty, administrators, those who have transitioned out of the academy, and leaders in creativity and commerce to address questions about the futures, actual and potential, of graduates from MA and PhD programs in the humanities. For what are we training our students? What other goals can we envision in addition to a career in the academy? Do we have an obligation to produce career-ready graduates? If no, then what is the role of humanities graduate education, and what is the relationship of humanities research and education to the world beyond the university? If yes, how do we preserve and integrate the historical, literary, and theoretical core of humanities scholarship while addressing the needs of the modern labour market? For information on TRaCE, stage 2 of Future Humanities, click here.

In addition to Prof. Yachnin and Dr. Yetter, Future Humanities would not have been possible without the ideas and involvement of those who participated in initial conversations in 2013:

  • Bob Barsky, Director, Bandy Center, Vanderbilt University
  • Nathalie Bondil, Directrice, Musée des beaux-arts, Montréal
  • Cameron Charlebois, Chair, IPLAI Advisory Board
  • Jay Clayton, Director, Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Social Policy, Vanderbilt University
  • Lesley Cormack, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta
  • Rebecca Duclos, Dean of Graduate Studies, School of the Art Institute, Chicago
  • Manon Gauthier, former CEO, The Segal Centre for Performing Arts, Montreal
  • Geoffrey Galt Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center (USA)
  • Michael Jemtrud, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, McGill
  • Martin Kreiswirth, Associate Provost and Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill
  • Becky Lentz, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill
  • Bronwen Low, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, McGill
  • Christopher Manfredi, Dean, Faculty of Arts, McGill
  • Paulina Mickiewicz, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill
  • Kate Muller, Executive Director, McCord Foundation
  • Jacob Rabas, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, McGill
  • Dorothee Schreiber, Administrator, Imternational Masters for Heath Leadership, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill
  • Stefan Sinclair, Associate Professor, LLCU-Digital Humanities, McGill
  • Sidonie Smith, Director, Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan
  • Will Straw, Director, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada

The White Paper

The White Paper reports on the chronic problem of humanities PhD academic underemployment, develops an argument for the social value of high-level humanities research and teaching, and outlines a series of measures for the reform of the PhD in the humanities. We note that most recent thinking about humanities graduate study has focused on the institution of the academy and the academic labour market. While we agree that these are significant focal points, we nevertheless maintain that it is important to develop a wider viewpoint that sees the university as a participant in the political world. The White Paper is meant as a provocation to diverse ways of thinking about the future of the humanities PhD. It does not represent the vision of Future Humanities as a whole, but is rather one example of the multiple perspectives that our initiative hopes to encourage. Read the white paper here (English and French versions).

Future Humanities Conference, May 2015

Our conference was held from May 21-22, 2015 and featured a combination of public sessions and closed working groups for invited participants.

Conference Program
Complete List of Participants
Complete List of Participating Institutions and Organizations

Conference Video recap

Supplement to Graduate Student Plenary

To open the 2-day #FutureHumanities conference, the first plenary session was dedicated to a group presentation from the graduate student caucus. Made up of student representatives from participating institutions, the caucus brought current student concerns to the forefront. As a supplement to that session, they developed a working document that contained notes from their collaborative brainstorming session, as well as remote pre-planning in the weeks leading up to the conference.

Working Document

PhD in the Humanities: Group Work Results

As part of day one of #FutureHumanities, our participants engaged in a 3-hour workshop that contained short presentations, provocative questions about the PhD, and collaborative discussion. Here are the collated answers from the group work:

PhD Program: Changes
PhD People: New Models

Anne Krook’s #FutureHumanities Resources

On May 20th, Anne Krook led a pre-conference workshop to prepare graduate students for the non-academic job market. On May 21st, she delivered the first plenary talk on “mobilizing the humanities.” Krook’s contributions to the #FutureHumanities conference were immense, and she has been kind enough to share those contributions here. For more information and resources, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

Non-academic Job Search [Workshop Slides]
“From Being to Doing: Mobilizing the Humanities” [Plenary Talk]
Self-Description for Résumé-Building [Template Exercise]
Example of Completed Template Exercise

Previous #FutureHumanities Announcements

“Think Piece from Future Humanities Co-Founders” (February 21, 2015)

Written by Drs. Paul Yachnin and Leigh Yetter, this think piece articulates many of the core values of Future Humanities.

“It has been suggested that the ‘crisis’ facing graduate study in the humanities is merely a consequence of overproduction, and that the problem therefore may be solved by cutting programs and reducing enrolments: fewer PhDs competing for positions will improve placement rates. This is a short-sighted response that forecloses on the possibility of innovative reform and fails to take into account the existing and potential social value of humanities graduate training.”

“It is necessary to rethink and reform the PhD in the humanities, and especially to develop a reinvigorated program of graduate study that will benefit graduates, universities, employers and society as a whole. We propose that this new thinking be framed by three enabling features: publicity, collaboration and fabrication.”

Read the whole piece over at Policy Options, a publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.


“Rethinking the Humanities PhD” (March 14, 2015)

In this article, Future Humanities co-founder Paul Yachnin proposes a reconsideration of skills training in PhD programs.

“Is it not possible to think of skills in deeper terms? Isn’t it true that learning a new skill can change a person, often in profound and long-lasting ways? And have we not seen how such people, bettered by the skills they have learned, are sometimes able to take on socially and politically influential roles? It is worth remembering that one major purpose of humanities education in the past was to prepare students for public life and public service.”

Read the full article here (via University Affairs / Affaires Universitaires)


“Anne Krook on New Directions for the PhD” (March 29, 2015)

As part of our conference in May, career consultant Anne Krook will join us to lead a workshop for graduate students. Here is a talk she delivered at the University of Alberta’s recent conference on the Future of the PhD in the Arts.

You can find more information about Anne’s work and publications over at her website.


“Audio Recording from ‘Q&A: Teaching CEGEP’” (May 7, 2015)

On April 10th, the Professional Development Committee of McGill’s English Department hosted a Q&A session about teaching at CEGEPs in Quebec. The Q&A featured panelists Matthew Taylor, Steph Barrington, and Elisha Conway. Below is the audio recording from that session—a useful tool for anyone interested in learning more about the CEGEP system.


“Responding to the White Paper” (May 11, 2015)

In a recent University Affairs article, Dr. Paul Forster of the University of Ottawa published “How not to reform the humanities,” an engaging and important critique of IPLAI’s 2013 White Paper. For example, Dr. Forster writes:

“Of course, people need meaningful work and it would be cruel to ignore the employment needs of PhDs. The authors acknowledge that humanities PhDs often pursue non-academic careers that pay well and are fulfilling. But this is to concede – what has been documented time and again – that humanities graduates possess marketable skills and that the prevalent view that they are living in their parent’s basements, on welfare, driving cabs or waiting tables, is wrong.”

Make sure to check out the discussion happening in the comments section of the article, and join in the debate! We’ll also be thinking about many of these issues at our upcoming #futurehumanities conference.


“Future Humanities in the Globe and Mail” (May 19, 2015)

In anticipation of our conference events this week, check out this piece from education reporter Simona Chiose: “Academics plant seeds of revolution in the Ivory Tower.”


“Reflections on #FutureHumanities” (June 16, 2015)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had some excellent reflections on our May conference event. Check out these great posts, and let us know if you’ve written something about #FutureHumanities that you’d like us to share here on the site.