The Organization Professor? With Dr. Anthony Grafton

When: Friday, April 15, 2016
12:00-1:30 p.m.
Where: Cohen Hall 402
University of Pennsylvania

Collegium’s Spring 2016 Humanities Forum will focus on a seminal essay of David Brooks, the New York Times Columnist who is Penn’s Baccalaureate Speaker this year and the recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

In “The Organization Kid”  (Atlantic Monthly, April 2001), Brooks argued that Princeton students and their classmates at peer institutions were arriving to college as professional résumé builders – they were hardly interested in learning for its own sake, let alone for their own personal or moral development.  The article stimulated a lively debate in its own time: was Brooks’s assessment fair or was it dependent upon a romantic notion of university life that never existed in any age?  From that point forward, Brooks continued to write about the nature, purpose, and transformation of American higher education.

Fifteen years later, we will revisit how the Organization Kids have grown up.   Some are back in the same place –elite colleges– this time trying to teach, and moreover to publish.  The pressure to produce in quantity has never been greater for faculty and grad students.  Does professors’ (necessary) participation in this system of retention and promotion have any impact upon the force of their erstwhile admonitions for students to eschew over-professionalization, pursue the liberal arts, take time to read widely and think deeply, etc.?   If indeed there is a systemic problem affecting professors as much as students, what might be done to address it?

This is a luncheon lecture — to reserve you place, please register here!  For questions contact Katie Becker at kbec@sas.upenn.edu

Featuring Dr. Anthony Grafton
Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University

Professor Grafton’s special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Professor Grafton is the author of ten books and the coauthor, editor, coeditor, or translator of nine others.

He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1989), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1993), the Balzan Prize for History of Humanities (2002), and the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2003), and is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the British Academy. In 2011 he served as President of the American Historical Association.

Coffee with the Classics: Spring 2016

On Nature and Human Nature
Part II: From Galileo to Google

Students have been gathering this spring in continuation of a survey of Natural Philosophy begun last fall.  Sessions 1-3 covered the ideas of Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, and Newton.  Dr. Mike Kane facilitates.  Dinner, coffee, and all texts are provided free of charge for all participants.  Coffee with the Classics takes place Wednesday evenings in Harrison College House, Seminar Room M20.  A summary of previous sessions can be found at Collegium Portal.

Join us for special guest facilitators on March 24 and April 6!
Email Katie Becker (kbec@sas.upenn.edu) to register and get a copy of the readings.


Session 4: The Romantic Reaction
Wednesday, March 24, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring special guest Dr. Michael Gamer

Associate Professor of English at Penn
Faculty Master at Harrison College House
The Romantic thinkers reacted against the excessive rationalism of the Enlightenment and the dehumanizing effects of industrialization.  In both of these areas, they challenged the existing ideas about human nature and the natural world.  The call to return to nature as a way of satisfying the human spirit was an essential part of the Romantic outlook, as was a sense of respect for the beauty of nature. Professor Gamer will be facilitating discussion on poems by Shelley and Wordsworth.


Session 5: Darwin
Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring special guest Dr. Peter Dodson
Professor of Veterinary Gross Anatomy
Professor of Earth and Environmental Science (paleontology)

Darwin’s Origin of Species was a scientific advance of enormous proportions, and one which represented nature in a new way.  For Darwin, nature is a self-evolving force, with a direction but with no telos as for Aristotle, and with selection but no design.  By showing humans as the product of evolution from lower species, Darwin also reshaped the discussion about nature and human nature (as well as faith and reason). Professor Dodson will be facilitating discussion on excerpts from Origin of Species and Darwin’s autobiography.


Session 6: The Human, the Natural, and the Artificial
Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring readings by B.F. Skinner, Ray Kurzweil, and Pope Francis

Skinner argued that we are simply the product of our environment and have little to no influence over nature.  We should therefore give up metaphysical ideas such as human freedom.  Kurzweil, chief futurist for Google, argues for the “Singularity”, the stage at which machine learning surpasses human intelligence and allows us to rewrite the human experience of the natural world.  This would culminate in personal immortality through technology.  Pope Francis makes the case for prudent restraints on technology as he urges us to correct for the excessive anthropocentrism of modern thought, and to care instead for the planet and the poor.