U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (10/26/2009)

1. White on Lears: Richard White recently reviewed Jackson Lears’s Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America,1877-1920 for The Nation‘s upcoming Nov. 2, 2009 issue. It’s a long review and I’m still absorbing both it and the message of Professor Lears’s book. But I nevertheless recommend it because of Lears’s motion to reset the paradigm from Robert Wiebe’s search-for-order view of the era.

2. “Politics and Letters”: This is the name of James Livingston’s weblog. Professor Livingston will be giving the plenary at the Second Annual USIH Conference next month in NYC. The title of his paper is: “Seeing, Hearing, and Writing the End of Modernity: From Reading Pragmatism to Watching Movies.”

3. Praise for Liberal Arts Colleges—From An Unusual Source: Three Chinese students reflect on the value of American-style liberal arts colleges in a book dedicated to Chinese audiences. I wonder about the relative and absolute numbers of first and second-generation Chinese that have attended liberal arts colleges since, say, the 1960s? The interview in the linked InsideHigherEd article contains culturally-specific insights about, as well as validation of, the value of a liberal arts education. Broadly speaking, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of medium and long-term changes might result in China if a critical mass of the Chinese increased attendance in these kinds of schools? And if change came about, would it feel like old-school cultural diplomacy (slow change from the outside in), or a new, twenty-first century Chinese cultural revolution (inside-out change)?

4. Adjuncting in Chicago: Even though I was surprised by the lack of history adjuncts in this Chronicle of Higher Education forum, as well as disappointed in the somewhat misleading title, the forum looks to me like a reasonable representation of part-time college-level instruction in Chicago.

5. HASTAC: My Chicago colleague Michael Kramer alerted me to a new player in digital academia/scholarship called HASTAC. It’s short for Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. In other words, it’s an interdisciplinary endeavor. Here’s their about page and a recent forum on the notion of democratizing knowledge.

6. The Misuse of Good Ideas: I wonder if a new category of anti-intellectualism should involve the intentional misuse of good ideas. A prominent example I have in mind derives from, but is not centered on, Gerald Graff’s injunction to “teach the controversy” (but Graff is not the object of my concern here). For the unfamiliar, he delivered this idea in his 1992 book, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (New York: W.W. Norton). The notion was expanded upon in an essay collection edited by William E. Cain, titled Teaching the Conflicts: Gerald Graff, Curricular Reform, and the Culture Wars (New York: Garland, 1994).

I have just learned, however, that Graff’s idea was picked by Intelligent Design proponents as a means to wedge curricular debates in the evolution versus creationism drama. This Wikipedia entry, if it can be trusted, lays out the situation. The entry notes that Graff is perhaps chagrined at the misuse of his idea.

7. “Integrating the Life of the Mind” at the University of Chicago: This is a new web exhibit hosted and constructed by the University of Chicago’s Special Collection Research Center in conjunction with Institute for Advanced Study professor, and former University of Chicago dean, Danielle Allen. I see the exhibit as a kind of partial rough draft of the history of African-American intellectuals in Chicago.

8. Salon Writer Probes the Mind of Glenn Beck: Alexander Zaitchik traces Beck’s intellectual roots to Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006).

9. Educating Intellectuals: It looks like Walt Disney’s Baby Einstein videos are not helping fight anti-intellectualism in America. I guess we’ll have to concentrate again on K-16 education.