1. Google and the Ongoing Commodification of Knowledge
Nicholas Carr takes apart Google’s view of Western/world history by acting like an intellectual historian. In a Rough Type post from a few days ago, Carr questions the Google team, as represented in statements made by Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian, on its intellectual vision of knowledge—meaning how to search our increasingly digitized historical record to answer questions. Here are some excerpts and Carr’s punchline (bolds mine):
History, in the Googley view, isn’t about what people do; it’s about what they output with the help of machines. Before 1700 you could see history everywhere except in the productivity statistics. …
Maybe the question we should be asking, not of Google but of ourselves, is what types of questions the Net is encouraging us to ask. Should human thought be gauged by its output or by its quality? That question might actually propel one into the musty depths of a library, where “time saved” is not always the primary concern.
And, I might add, we should also acknowledge that some knowledge can’t be commodified. [Aside: I think it’s funny that Blogger.com doesn’t understand “commodify” as a verb. Merriam-Webster online does, however.]
2. Hollinger on Ecumenical Protestantism in Modern America
HNN has done yeoman’s work over the years (e.g. 2009, 2010, 2011) in bringing selected proceedings from major historical society meetings to the public. Of interest to intellectual historians, David Hollinger gave a talk at this year’s OAH meeting entitled “After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Ecumenical Protestantism and the Modern American Encounter with Diversity.” Here is HNN’s recording of the talk in seven parts (1 hr, 7 minutes total). In the past years, intellectual history seems to have an HNN angel in relation to coverage because many intellectual history panels are covered and recorded. Kudos to HNN and Rick Shenkman!
3. Refereeing and Transparency
Eric Schliesser at the NEW APPS weblog advocates for more transparency in humanities and social sciences publication refereeing. Here’s the gist of his argument:
Accepted, refereed papers and books should be accompanied with the name of the referees and, ideally, their reports, if only, in the online edition. (Note rejections can still be done anonymously.)
I think I like the idea of exposing the chain of recommendations in favor of breaking down “old boys and girls networks” across academe. This could have some interesting consequences in history. But I really like the idea of getting more important academic work recognized. Why shouldn’t this legitimate work be incorporated into the tenure train? I’m interested in arguments opposed.
4. The New Issue of Modern Intellectual History
The April 2011 issue of Modern Intellectual History (Vol. 8, no. 1) holds forth several articles of interest to U.S. intellectual historians. Here’s the TOC. I’ve already downloaded Andrew Jewett‘s article, “Canonizing Dewey: Naturalism, Logical Empiricism, and the Idea of American Philosophy.” I also plan on reading Patrick Allit‘s review of the two new books on Ayn Rand (Burns and Heller). Finally, there is Richard F. Teichgraebe‘s article, titled “Beyond ‘Academicization’: The Postwar American University and Intellectual History.” Thanks to Andrew J. Ballou for the head’s up.
5. Scialabba on Phillipson’s Adam Smith
Here is George Scialabba’s review of Nicholas Phillipson’s Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life. I recommend the review for what it says about modern conservative economic interpretations and appropriations of Smith. It’s near the bottom of the review that Scialabba (and I) find Phillipson most useful in undermining popular perceptions about Smith’s coherence in terms of market theory.
6. A New Book—Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction
Yet another English Professor, Stephen Schryer at the University of New Brunswick, presents us with an intellectual and cultural history of America’s late twentieth-century intelligentsia, this time through complex fiction. Here’s the book’s description from Columbia University Press:
America’s post-World War II prosperity created a boom in higher education, expanding the number of university-educated readers and making a new literary politics possible. Writers began to direct their work toward the growing professional class, and the American public in turn became more open to literary culture. This relationship imbued fiction with a new social and cultural import, allowing authors to envision themselves as unique cultural educators. It also changed the nature of literary representation: writers came to depict social reality as a tissue of ideas produced by knowledge elites.
Linking literary and historical trends, Stephen Schryer underscores the exalted fantasies that arose from postwar American writers’ new sense of their cultural mission. Hoping to transform capitalism from within, writers and critics tried to cultivate aesthetically attuned professionals who could disrupt the narrow materialism of the bourgeoisie. Reading Don DeLillo, Marge Piercy, Mary McCarthy, Saul Bellow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ralph Ellison, and Lionel Trilling, among others, Schryer unravels the postwar idea of American literature as a vehicle for instruction, while highlighting both the promise and flaws inherent in this vision.
Enjoy! – TL