Big Humanities and the Ethics of Knowledge

Over the past two decades, long-running debates about the purposes and practices of humanistic inquiry have been refocused as a debate about the uncertain fate of the humanities in a digital age. Now, with the advent of digital and computational humanities, scholars are discussing with a new urgency what the humanities are for and what […]

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The Limits of Expertise

Americans don’t trust their institutions. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 32 percent of Americans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in fourteen key institutions. Americans doubt whether their basic institutions––from organized religion and the news media to Congress and the medical system––are providing them with the knowledge and expertise […]

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The University, Virtue and the Limits of Critique

[This is the text of a talk I delivered at “Virtue and the University,” a conference held in May at Christ Church College at Oxford.]  In 1917 a group of German university students invited the renowned sociologist Max Weber to Munich to participate in a lecture series entitled “intellectual work as vocation” [geistige Arbeit als Beruf]. […]

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The Invention of Philosophy

In the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century German philosopher who published his magnum opus at the age of fifty after ten years of publishing silence, solicited help from his readers. The initial reviewers of what would become one of modern philosophy’s canonical texts couldn’t understand it. […]

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Whatever Happened to General Education?

Finance, football, and fraternities—not philosophy or physics—are the pillars of the modern American university. It’s been that way for more than a century: In On the Higher Learning in America (1918)—published fewer than forty years after the founding of Johns Hopkins, America’s first research university—Thorstein Veblen, the early-twentieth-century American sociologist who coined the term “conspicuous consumption,” dismissed […]

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Epistemic Inequality

Andrew Piper and I recently completed the first essay in a larger project on knowledge norms and publishing. “Publication, Power, Patronage: On Inequality and Academic Publishing” will be out soon in Critical Inquiry. Our hope for the broader project is to help mitigate the profound ignorance that we scholars, ourselves included, have of our own institutions. We are […]

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On What is Missing

From 2014-2016, I chaired an effort at the University of Virginia to reform undergraduate general education. It was a brutal. But in May of last year, my colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences voted, with 83% in favor, to pilot a new curriculum. This past fall I gave my first talks reflecting on […]

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Rise of the Research University

The Rise of the Research University: A Sourcebook is out from the University of Chicago Press. Read Fichte, Humboldt, and Schelling alongside Eliot, Gilman, and Hutchins. The modern research university is a global institution with a rich history that stretches into an ivy-laden past, but for as much as we think we know about that past, […]

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Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age

In the winter of 1872, Friedrich Nietzsche, then a classics professor still in his mid-twenties, delivered a series of lectures on the future of education in Germany . They were held in Basel, where Nietzsche was working then. When he arrived in 1869 from Leipzig to this Swiss enclave on the Rhine, he encountered an […]

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Field of Dreams: On Public Universities

Shortly before his death in in 2010, the historian Tony Judt recalled driving across the United States as a young man. Having come of age in the austerity of postwar Britain, Judt saw much to marvel over in 1970s America. As he traveled by Buick from Boston to a job at the University of California, […]

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