The World Humanities Report has invited a series of scholars and institutions to examine and interrogate the present state and the future legacies of the humanities across the globe. With its historical problems, refreshing alternatives, and engaged practices, the Americas offers an exemplary site for exploring this myriad of approaches. In this entry, we gather selected passages from different reports on the Americas in order to trace a constellation of the humanities, its practices and discourses. As a member of the University of Wisconsin World Humanities Report Lab since 2020 and a Spanish proofreader for the Report, I would like to introduce you to the current state of the humanities across the continent. For that reason, I have divided this entry into three thematic groups: 1) material conditions—the structural constraints of the institutionalized humanities in the South compared to the North; 2) indigenous studies—the display of indigenous knowledges across regions, histories, and languages in the Americas; and 3) the futures of the humanities—the rise of digital humanities and posthumanism in Latin America. Each thematic section includes a brief introduction of the report plus a representative quotation that highlights either a present problem or a promising legacy in the humanities field.
By working with these reports and their authors, I have had the chance to not only reflect on the role of the humanities in the Americas, but also on my own academic life trajectory across two regions (the Southern Cone and the United States.), two languages (Spanish and English), and two public institutions (the University of Chile and the University of Wisconsin-Madison). We hope that this brief introduction fosters that reflection and whets your appetite for the full World Humanities Report, which will be forthcoming at https://worldhumanitiesreport.org.
1. Material Conditions
1.1. Prado. Ignacio M. Sánchez. Defined by Paradox: The Humanities in México. World Humanities Report, CHCI.
In this report, Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado traces a synthetic, but representative panorama of the humanities in Mexico, particularly its public and private university system. Apart from concentrating on the role of diversity and the university in the public sphere, the scholar focuses on the structural challenges of the humanities across the institutions of higher education. Despite these disadvantages, caused by the neoliberal model of the corporate university, the humanities are still cultivated, practiced, and theorized in Mexico by more students across its undergraduate and graduate programs.
As they do elsewhere, the humanities in Mexico are faced with a paradox. There is broad public interest in the humanities’ objects of scholarship (e.g., the arts, literature, media, social identities), as well as a considerable infrastructure of study in the humanities, encompassing both the education system (public and private) and the state. But the panorama is also marked by a constant exacerbation of precariousness and numerous threats against humanities entities: governmental budget cuts, the pressure to neoliberalize universities, criteria for accreditation and prestige that have nothing to do with the concrete nature of the humanities, and so forth. Nonetheless, the humanities in Mexico are very much alive. There is not, as there is in the United States, a perceptible scarcity of students. Programs continue to serve sizable populations, due in part to the vibrancy of culture in the public sphere. Likewise, academic bodies of great strength and presence continue to research and produce knowledge in the humanities. (9-10)
1.2. Montevideo Group University Association (AUGM). The Humanities in the Southern Cone: A Report. World Humanities Report, CHCI.
Through a survey completed by twenty of its university members, the Montevideo Group University Association (AUGM) describes the disciplinary, structural, and institutional panorama of the humanities in the Southern Cone. The report tackles the problematic boundaries between the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences both in terms of the university departments and their disciplines. At the same time, the survey shows the research areas studied by the members of the Montevideo association, as well as the structural constraints regarding public and private funding.
The situation of the humanities in the AUGM’s sphere of influence shows a great disciplinary diversity in different countries, as well as connections with the disciplines outside the humanities, forming part of real and desirable interdisciplinarity. (10)
There is no evidence of public policies that strongly promote the development of the humanities, and in some countries they are even negatively valued. (10)
Funding for research in the humanities comes almost exclusively from the public sector, although it is extremely low compared to funding for other topics of research; and funding from the private sector and international organizations is practically nonexistent. (10-11)
We see the need to create a humanities network at the regional level throughout South America. (11)
2. Indigenous Studies
2.1. Lambright, Anne, Kelley McDonough, Joseph M. Pierce, and Shannon Speed. Transgressing Settler Borders: Grounded Relationalities in Abiayala. World Humanities Report, CHCI.
This report transcribes a roundtable originally convened as part of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) 2020 annual conference. The scholars expose their personal stories and their current vision of indigenous studies as a hemispheric field. In other words, the interlocutors are interested in breaking the colonial, linguistic, and cultural boundaries between the North-South divide through their academic trajectories in Indigenous and Latin American studies.
I hear people say a lot that the terms “Indigenous” and “Indigeneity” erase the specificity of particular Native experiences. And I know a lot of people feel this way. But building strong relations with Native folks in the South and in the North, I came to understand that it is not that we are all in the same amorphous category of Indigenous peoples, but rather that we are vastly diverse peoples within and across settler borders, unified by shared experience of colonial occupation and exploitation by the settler capitalist state. (10)
3. Futures of the Humanities
3.1. Thayer, Willy, Silvia Schwarzböck, Andrés Menard, Elizabeth Collingwood-Selby, and Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott. (Post)Humanities and the University: A Conversation. World Humanities Report, CHCI.
The report offers a theoretical conversation on the definition of the humanities—particularly what constitutes “humanity”— a reflection that is informed by the structural conditions of our time. The dialogue employs the history of philosophy and critical theory in order to examine, interrogate, and advocate for a “posthumanist” field or framework. For these scholars, the humanities constitute a critical event that ungrounds its own historical and conceptual background as a “humanist” or “enlightened” field, e.g., imperialism, universalism, sexism, racism, and speciesism, among others.
The task, then, is to reimagine the humanities beyond the economies of nomos (territory) and hegemony (power) that have limited and instrumentalized them according to the imperative of a universalizing project, which, in the best case, is related to the expansion of European cosmopolitanism and, in the worst case, appears to be updating the old project of the pax imperium based on the metaphysical definition of knowledge and truth according as the logic of veritas and adequatio. The task now is not to opt for one of these alternatives, pax universalis or universalized European cosmopolitanism, as if their differences still made any difference in a world that is effectively globalized. Rather, the task is to imagine the humanities, and along with them the contemporary university, beyond the logic of hegemony that sets the relations between knowledge, power, legitimation, and sovereignty. (11)
3.2. Link, Daniel. Must We Be So Humanistic? World Humanities Report, CHCI.
In this report, Daniel Link argues for “the return of philology” as an alternative solution for the crisis of the humanities. This return relies on two critical and practical factors: 1) the employment of a decolonial approach, whose historical origin belongs to the Emersonian figure of the “American scholar”; and 2) the rise of digital humanities as an emerging field in Latin America. Daniel Link envisions this new practice as an auspicious possibility for Latin American scholars in order to study, and preserve their archive from the academic and epistemological extractivism of the North.
The possibility of a network of Latin American archives is a long-term goal that arose when we discovered that those of us who direct and research archival sources in Latin America are facing similar challenges. We understand that if we do not connect our repositories, we lose sovereignty, we lose readers, and we are condemned to repeat conceptual errors that our neighbors to the north already overcame. (6)