:: CHAIR: Roberts, Jennifer L
I work at the intersection of political and intellectual history, with a particular focus on the political roles that academic scholars have played in the United States since the Civil War. My research traces how ideas, concepts, and interpretive frames generated in the universities have functioned as resources or obstacles for those seeking to make political change and, conversely, how beliefs about the political import of various forms of knowledge have shaped the trajectory of academic thought. I attend closely to how discursive elements move between the broad sphere of public culture and the increasingly specialized academic disciplines.
In my first book, To Make America Scientific: Science, Democracy, and the University Before the Cold War (forthcoming in 2011), I examine a heterogeneous series of attempts by university-based scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to bring the critical resources of science (especially social science) to bear on American public discourse. My current project, Against the Technostructure: Critics of Scientism Since the New Deal, explores how critiques of the social sciences have circulated between groups ranging across the political spectrum, including the postwar New Right, the 1960s New Left, and more recent neoconservatives, communitarians, and Christian conservatives. Other scholarly interests include the public engagements of professional philosophers, the concept of “modernity” in the human sciences, the leftward shift in the humanities disciplines during the second half of the twentieth century, and the changing contours of secularism and secularity.
Building on these preoccupations, I offer a range of courses on knowledge, public culture, and politics. I also guide student research projects and general exam preparation in fields including History, Social Studies, History of Science, and History of American Civilization. Prior to arriving at Harvard in 2007, I held fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the Cornell Society for the Humanities, and taught courses at Yale, Vanderbilt, Cornell, and NYU. In my spare time, I can be found chasing my toddler son around the playgrounds of Cambridge.