The historian Caroline Walker Bynum, who solicited and organized this set of five case studies, explains in her introduction to them that their intent is to bypass the currently popular and unsupported claim that the humanities have practical relevance and, instead, to offer ruminative descriptions of what happens when teachers and students meet to discuss texts and objects. She explains that the essays report in detail on five individual classes in five very different academic settings, in the hope of helping to turn the international anglophone conversation about humanistic education away from utilitarian, presentist, all-inclusive claims and toward a demonstration of what the humanities do in practice.

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