Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Forget the Humanities

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Forget the Humanities

Article excerpt

Isabel Carlisle on the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

The National Lottery Bill goes into standing committee in the House of Commons next week. It puts before Parliament Labour's proposals to increase the scope of the Lottery and to overhaul its administration. As well as establishing a new good cause of health, education and the environment, the Bill proposes the creation of a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) to be the `national trust for talent'. Nesta, it is proposed, would forge links between the arts and sciences by investing in new ideas and new talent, aiming to stop the brain-drain overseas that was so much a feature of under investment in universities during the Eighties.

While Labour's aim is to make the 'People's Lottery' more responsive to the needs and interests of the population as a whole, the danger is that the politics of populism are not interested in centres of cultural excellence. Since Labour came into power there has been a subtle sidelining of those parts of our culture that are perceived as being elitist. To give one example, around 30 specialised academic institutions (which prefer not to be named) whose archives and libraries were, by the new Labour standards, not considered accessible to the general public saw their eligibility for Heritage Lottery Fund grants for their capital projects withdrawn. These are the same university research centres which are the harbourers of potential Nesta talent.

The idea of creating a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts is undeniably an exciting one. Implicit is the recognition that there is great interest, at many levels, in exploring the fertile ground between disciplines and between cultures. What the proposers of Nesta have missed is that the key to this lies not just in the arts, technology and sciences (already over-promoted) but in the neglected humanities that form a natural bridge between the two. London is one among many cities that effectively, has a non-stop arts festival. Popular science is regularly featured in the media.

Yet the humanities can be just as entertaining, as intelligently challenging, as directly connected to issues of daily life. There are thinkers and communicators in the humanities who within their own particular disciplines of history, politics, classics, letters, philosophy, law, architecture or the social sciences are getting to grips with the issues that concern us most as we enter a new millennium, not least the globalisation of culture and how it affects us. …

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