Humanities 20.0 on 17 October 2017

(05-10-2017) In 2017, the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy will be celebrating its 200th birthday, as one of Ghent University’s four founding faculties.

This will be celebrated on 17 October 2017 and highlighted with Humanities 20.0, a critical and inspiring reflection of the role of humanities in the world of today and tomorrow.


  • 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.: panel debate with Jan Aerts (Jonge Academie), Robbert Dijkgraaf, Thomas Leysen (Umicore, KBC, Mediahuis), Freddy Mortier (vice rector 2013-2017), Helen Small, and Mieke Van Herreweghe (vice rector), moderated by Annelies Beck. (St. Peter’s Abbey)
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  • 3.45 p.m. – 5 p.m.: master class by Robbert Dijkgraaf and Helen Small for honours and other students (Quetelet, Think&Talk, philosophy). (St. Peter’s Abbey) Sign up
  • 7.30 p.m. – 9.30 p.m.: evening lecture by Robbert Dijkgraaf and Helen Small, followed by a festive reception. (Aula, Voldersstraat 9)
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Humanities 20.0

Humanities have been at the heart of education and research for over 2,000 years. Whether it is grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, philosophy, or history: since ancient times, these have all been inextricably linked with knowledge, science, and education in the Western world. This was also the reason why the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy was one of the first priorities when founding Ghent University, 200 years ago.

By the end of the 20th century, humanities were faced with turbulent times, and that was no different at the start of the 21st century. The underlying principles of humanities came under considerable pressure in many ways. What is the use of conceptual and historical critique in a world dominated by mathematical models and binary systems? What is language sensitivity for those that think in terms of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and big data? Can we still learn anything from an idiosyncratic artist-scientist like Leonardo da Vinci, or are we better just bowing down to everything on offer with (gene) technology and digitalisation? And what do we leave for future generations – what examples, inspiration, temptations?

To mark the 200th anniversary of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, eminent scientists Robbert Dijkgraaf and Helen Small delve deeper into these matters to demonstrate that the humanities are still just as essential as ever, after 200 years and even 2,000 years.

  • As a theoretical physicist, Robbert Dijkgraaf follows in Einstein’s footsteps, and is considered one of modern day’s greatest intellectuals. He is the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and has a soft spot for art.
  • Helen Small is a professor in English literature at Oxford University and is world famous for her book The Value of the Humanities.

You are required to sign up, but entry is free:

Robbert Dijkgraaf, The Usefulness of the Humanities

It is the best of times and the worst of times for scholarship. Never before there has been such a depth of knowledge and talent, such a confluence of scientific disciplines, and such a spectrum of challenges facing society. On the other hand, the architecture of education and research seems to ill fit these demands, and the core values of science and scholarship are under public attack. What should the role of the humanities be in charting the way forward, for society and for academia.


Helen Small, In Praise of Idleness? The Work of the Humanities

This paper will examine the tendency of Humanities Faculties to avoid advocating for their practices as forms of work – preferring other (usually ‘higher’) claims to value. In a context of continuing external pressures to demonstrate student employability, growing emphasis on data analysis and quantitative reasoning, and an ostensibly declining regard for rhetoric, the paper will make a case for giving sharper definition and greater prominence in our disciplinary self-descriptions to the forms and purposes of work pursued by humanities scholars and students.

Organisation committee

Gita Deneckere, Koenraad Jonckheere, Mieke Van Herreweghe, Gertrudis Van de Vijver, Lieve Van Hoof, Peter Van Nuffelen, Annelies Van Wittenberghe


Lieve Van Hoof