Peter Brown: Humanties at its Best

The Princetonian has a write-up on historian Peter Brown. Brown is assuredly one of the greatest historians and scholars the twentieth-century produced. His scholarship is unrivaled in the field. The breadth and scope of Brown’s mastery is staggering and awe-inspiring (how is it even possible for one man to be so authoritative in both Western and Eastern Christianity, and their respective worlds?!). His command of languages is, I think, unheard of (in my experience, I can’t think of many historians fluent in more than perhaps a half-dozen languages at best, depending on his/her speciality).

More than this prodigious work, his life and his work represent, not merely the field of history at its best, but also the humanities more generally. As the humanities are increasingly under assault and the emphasis remains almost exclusively on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), Brown serves as a reminder of the joys and wisdom that is unique to humanities.

STEM, while certainly important (I, for one, would find the lack of central air-conditioning intolerable), it is the humanities that teach us what Truth is, what it means to be human, or what it means to empathize with “the other.” The humanities pull us toward the Good and the Beautiful in a way STEM just quite can’t because of its utilitarian nature.

Those of us who toil ignominiously in the unwanted humanities could do worse than live the sort of life embodied by Peter Brown.