A letter from the associate dean

Language, literature, music, history, philosophy, creative writing, religious studies, rhetoric, film, anthropology – the humanities and arts enable us to reach across the time and place, connecting us to pasts, presents, and futures of human experience and our own lives. They hone our capacity to contextualize and critique, they give us wide frames of reference as well as textured perspectives to navigate the torrents of information that wash against us every day. They empower us to understand our place in the world, express and perform meaning, and imagine greater possibilities.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison boasts a long tradition of excellence in the arts and humanities. We are an international leader in foreign language education and research, offering instruction in more than 40 modern and ancient languages. Indeed, we graduate more students with language majors than any university in the United States. Our programs in History, English, Creative Writing, and Philosophy are ranked among the very best in the nation. As home of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, we are the international epicenter of humanities research, education, and public engagement.

Our humanities curricula impart a range of competences that are highly sought in today’s globalizing, information-driven workplace: the capacity to think critically, to analyze information and understand it in historical and cultural contexts, to communicate and collaborate effectively across cultures, races, religions, and to do so in multiple languages. The fruits of education in the arts and humanities – creative expression, strong thinking, excellent writing, persuasive speaking, broad understanding, and empathy – enhance career prospects precisely because they enrich our lives and world.

Leaders in virtually every field have benefited from studying the arts and humanities. Steve Jobs, for example, credited a course in calligraphy with giving him the inspiration for some of Apple’s revolutionary designs. Jobs knew well that the dazzling array of devices in our Information Age are but the means to an end – enabling us to connect, communicate, explore, and save the music, words, and films of artists and storytellers steeped in arts and humanities traditions.

In many ways, the arts and humanities have never been more important or exciting than they are at this moment, especially here at UW-Madison. They are important because the ways of knowing and expressing the arts and humanities foster are powerful tools in our intensified striving to understand, respect, and live civilly with people different from ourselves. They are exciting because Letters & Science will soon launch a new undergraduate humanities initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation and John and Tashia Morgridge that draws upon our long successful history in experimental education.

Through intrepid sifting and winnowing, the arts and humanities enhance the capacity to pose new questions and offer creative solutions to serious challenges, preparing the next generation of leaders to boldly and thoughtfully inscribe their chapter in humankind’s unfolding story.

– Susan Zaeske, Associate Dean for Arts & Humanities