The Humanities -- All in the Family?

Is family tv dead? If not, is there room for a family news show on the humanities?

Classics Day winners, Ridgewood High School, Photo courtesy NJ Arts News

In this day and age is there still such a thing as family tv, and if so, is there a place for a news show on the humanities that seeks to have family appeal?  This and other questions were debated by a lively audience of members of campus and community at the screening hosted by the Institute for the Humanities, Wednesday, May 1, 2013 of a pilot episode of "HEART of the News" --  a tv "magazine show" under development by NJ Arts News which aspires to fill such a niche.

During recent decades, the increased affordability and portability of television sets has made it possible for many American households to have a tv almost in every room.  This, along with the growth of cable tv specialty channels, seems to have brought about the demise of the practice of television watching as a family activity.  But could this concept be revived in some form, and if so, could it be revived around a program that showcases the life of the humanities in New Jersey?

Dr. Susan Haig, Creative Director of NJ Arts News, and former orchestral conductor -- sometime Associate Conductor of the Florida Orchestra, Music Director of Canada‚Äôs Windsor Symphony Orchestra, and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, and Resident Conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra -- led this discussion last Wednesday following a screening of her pilot episode of "HEART of the News."  This was an episode of particular interest to Montclair State since it included a segment Haig calls a "Humanities Hit" filmed on this university's campus.  Eventually, six of these short segments focusing on the life of the humanities on New Jersey campuses will be completed with the assistance of a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. This first was filmed at Montclair State University last fall in the context of Montclair State's Institute for the Humanities' "Classics Day."  

The annual Classics Day (the Institute has hosted one every year since 1989) aims to provide high school students studying Latin with a taste of the rich experience of majoring in Classics at the college level.  A morning of presentations by Montclair State faculty from the Department of Classics & General Humanities on Classics-related topics is followed by a thirty-minute contest involving 99 questions pertaining to Latin grammar, Roman Civilization, and Classical Mythology.  Six-person teams representing their schools compete for one of three prizes.  This year's winners were Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood (first); Ridge High School, Basking Ridge (second); and Delbarton, Morristown (third).  

Against this lively backdrop -- which acted as an apt reminder of the humanities' Greco-Roman origins -- NJ Arts News invited the reflections of assorted Montclair State faculty and undergraduates on what the humanities mean to them: Justin Garcia, Philosophy & Religion major, and Stephanie Garcia (no relation!), French major,  Dr. Victoria Larson, Director of the Institute for the Humanities, and Drs. Cynthia Eller and David Benfield, both of the Department of Philosophy & Religion.

In the Montclair State "Humanities Hit," Justin Garcia compares the humanities to a "rich tapestry" and David Benfield reflects that through the humanities we learn to be "capable of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, which is actually preparation for real decision making, the real world." Cynthia Eller sums it all up with the thought that through the humanities "you can be a citizen not just of the world but of all of human history, knowing that you are a part of this human story that started a hundred thousand years ago!"

Montclair State's "Humanities Hit" may be viewed at njartsnews.org