New Directions in the Humanities and Gerontology: Enhancing Capacity to Meet the Challenges of the “Longevity Revolution”

By Phoebe Liebig and Debra Sheets.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The role of the humanities in shedding light on human values, emotions and perceptions at all stages of the life span is not new. However, the global “longevity revolution” heightens the importance of asking “What is it to be old?” and “What is the meaning of old age?” The traditional disciplines of the humanities, such as arts and literature, enhance our understanding of the meaning of aging beyond the lens offered by science and medicine. Since the 1970s, the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) has identified humanistic inquiry as crucial to the advancement of gerontology as a scientific field of theory and practice. This paper traces the development of GSA’s programmatic and organizational structures with special emphasis on new opportunities to examine the ways in which the arts and humanities contribute to ways of knowing that address complex questions of meaning that may have no definitive answers. We highlight and analyze types of humanities and arts articles (e.g., impact of cultural programs on elders’ health and functioning, cinematic representations of old age, role of the aged as story-tellers across cultures, poetry written by famous and “ordinary” older adults) to demonstrate the breadth of current inquiry and practice, and recommend renewed and new strategies to strengthen the capacity and relevance of the humanities for understanding and enhancing the later years.

Keywords: Gerontology, Role of the Humanities, Organizational Integration Efforts

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 12, pp.23-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 629.229KB).

Dr. Phoebe Liebig

Associate Professor Emerita, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Phoebe Liebig, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor Emerita of Gerontology and Public Administration at USC. She has been in the field of aging for more than 25 years and is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She has written numerous book chapters and articles on housing and long-term care. Dr. Liebig has received several Fulbright Senior Scholar awards and conducted field research on old-age homes and services in India. In 2003 she received the Clark Tibbitts Award for Excellence in Gerontology from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. Dr. Liebig is a founding member and serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Aging, Humanities and the Arts, an affiliated journal of the Gerontological Society of America.

Dr. Debra Sheets

Associate Professor, School of Nursing, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, USA

Debra Sheets, Ph.D., MSN, RN-BC, CNE received her doctorate in Gerontology and Public Policy from the University of Southern California. Her undergraduate degree was in the Humanities. Dr. Sheets is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America where she is a former chair of both the GSA Humanities and Arts Committee (2003). She is an elected fellow of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). She is Past-President of Sigma Phi Omega (SPO), the national gerontological honor society. She is Director of the California State University (CSU) Online Gerontology Consortium involving CSU campuses across the state. Dr. Sheets’ research focuses on creativity, resilience and aging, gerontranscendence, elder abuse, and geriatric nursing education. She is co-editor of the book Enduring Questions in Gerontology (Springer, 2006) and her articles have appeared in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, Generations, Southwest Journal of Aging, and Contemporary Gerontology.


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