The Future of the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences PhD at Berkeley


Led by Anthony Cascardi, Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley, and Claudia von Vacano, Executive Director of D-Lab and the Digital Humanities, this Matrix project team aims to examine the current professional relevance of liberal arts doctoral preparation at Berkeley.

The reason: PhD training in the humanities and humanistic social sciences has strained to keep pace with accelerating changes in the technologies and professional cultures of employment, both within and beyond academia.

Enlisting current graduate students, as well as professionals from non-academic institutions, this team will identify potential reforms of humanities and humanistic social sciences graduate apprenticeship at UC Berkeley, and find new ways to position graduates to become successful in their chosen professional fields.

As they explained in their proposal, the team is working to “appropriately analyze the professional health of the PhD and enable us to advance meaningful curricular reforms that help to position Berkeley graduates at the forefront of reflection on, and critical participation in, emerging forms of labor and their cultural, social, and political contexts.”

A key part of their plan lies in applying "evidence-driven reforms"—using data-driven methods from the social sciences—to understand the current state of these PhD programs. “We propose to study the data behind and around this situation to examine the current professional relevance of liberal arts doctoral preparation at Berkeley,” they explained. “Our plan is to combine academic humanists and social scientists with extramural professionals in the thorough analysis of contemporary PhD training at Berkeley. This research will allow us to formulate specific and significant changes to such professional development."

The team members intend to publish the findings of their investigation and possibly organize a conference, in addition to securing grant funding for future work. This effort is the first of its kind, as past efforts to revamp the Ph.D. programs have failed to integrate diverse perspectives and methodologies.

"Humanists that have come at the 'PhD question' have often failed to assess PhD preparation relatively objectively through statistical analysis; social scientists that have approached the question have frequently failed to appreciate the significance of informal traditions that inform graduate student development," they explained. "In both of these broad cases, academic analysis has not been supplemented by non-academic expertise and perspective."