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- The four main types of essay | Quick guide with examples
The Four Main Types of Essay | Quick Guide with Examples
Published on September 4, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 6, 2021.
An essay is a focused piece of writing designed to inform or persuade. There are many different types of essay, but they are often defined in four categories: argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive essays.
Argumentative and expository essays are focused on conveying information and making clear points, while narrative and descriptive essays are about exercising creativity and writing in an interesting way. At university level, argumentative essays are the most common type.
In high school and college, you will also often have to write textual analysis essays, which test your skills in close reading and interpretation.
Table of contents
Argumentative essays, expository essays, narrative essays, descriptive essays, textual analysis essays, frequently asked questions about types of essays.
An argumentative essay presents an extended, evidence-based argument. It requires a strong thesis statement —a clearly defined stance on your topic. Your aim is to convince the reader of your thesis using evidence (such as quotations ) and analysis.
Argumentative essays test your ability to research and present your own position on a topic. This is the most common type of essay at college level—most papers you write will involve some kind of argumentation.
The essay is divided into an introduction, body, and conclusion:
- The introduction provides your topic and thesis statement
- The body presents your evidence and arguments
- The conclusion summarizes your argument and emphasizes its importance
The example below is a paragraph from the body of an argumentative essay about the effects of the internet on education. Mouse over it to learn more.
A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.
An expository essay provides a clear, focused explanation of a topic. It doesn’t require an original argument, just a balanced and well-organized view of the topic.
Expository essays test your familiarity with a topic and your ability to organize and convey information. They are commonly assigned at high school or in exam questions at college level.
The introduction of an expository essay states your topic and provides some general background, the body presents the details, and the conclusion summarizes the information presented.
A typical body paragraph from an expository essay about the invention of the printing press is shown below. Mouse over it to learn more.
The invention of the printing press in 1440 changed this situation dramatically. Johannes Gutenberg, who had worked as a goldsmith, used his knowledge of metals in the design of the press. He made his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, whose durability allowed for the reliable production of high-quality books. This new technology allowed texts to be reproduced and disseminated on a much larger scale than was previously possible. The Gutenberg Bible appeared in the 1450s, and a large number of printing presses sprang up across the continent in the following decades. Gutenberg’s invention rapidly transformed cultural production in Europe; among other things, it would lead to the Protestant Reformation.
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A narrative essay is one that tells a story. This is usually a story about a personal experience you had, but it may also be an imaginative exploration of something you have not experienced.
Narrative essays test your ability to build up a narrative in an engaging, well-structured way. They are much more personal and creative than other kinds of academic writing . Writing a personal statement for an application requires the same skills as a narrative essay.
A narrative essay isn’t strictly divided into introduction, body, and conclusion, but it should still begin by setting up the narrative and finish by expressing the point of the story—what you learned from your experience, or why it made an impression on you.
Mouse over the example below, a short narrative essay responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” to explore its structure.
Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.
Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.
A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.
The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.
A descriptive essay provides a detailed sensory description of something. Like narrative essays, they allow you to be more creative than most academic writing, but they are more tightly focused than narrative essays. You might describe a specific place or object, rather than telling a whole story.
Descriptive essays test your ability to use language creatively, making striking word choices to convey a memorable picture of what you’re describing.
A descriptive essay can be quite loosely structured, though it should usually begin by introducing the object of your description and end by drawing an overall picture of it. The important thing is to use careful word choices and figurative language to create an original description of your object.
Mouse over the example below, a response to the prompt “Describe a place you love to spend time in,” to learn more about descriptive essays.
On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.
My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.
With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…
Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.
Though every essay type tests your writing skills, some essays also test your ability to read carefully and critically. In a textual analysis essay, you don’t just present information on a topic, but closely analyze a text to explain how it achieves certain effects.
A rhetorical analysis looks at a persuasive text (e.g. a speech, an essay, a political cartoon) in terms of the rhetorical devices it uses, and evaluates their effectiveness.
The goal is not to state whether you agree with the author’s argument but to look at how they have constructed it.
The introduction of a rhetorical analysis presents the text, some background information, and your thesis statement; the body comprises the analysis itself; and the conclusion wraps up your analysis of the text, emphasizing its relevance to broader concerns.
The example below is from a rhetorical analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech . Mouse over it to learn more.
King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.
A literary analysis essay presents a close reading of a work of literature—e.g. a poem or novel—to explore the choices made by the author and how they help to convey the text’s theme. It is not simply a book report or a review, but an in-depth interpretation of the text.
Literary analysis looks at things like setting, characters, themes, and figurative language. The goal is to closely analyze what the author conveys and how.
The introduction of a literary analysis essay presents the text and background, and provides your thesis statement; the body consists of close readings of the text with quotations and analysis in support of your argument; and the conclusion emphasizes what your approach tells us about the text.
Mouse over the example below, the introduction to a literary analysis essay on Frankenstein , to learn more.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.
At high school and in composition classes at university, you’ll often be told to write a specific type of essay , but you might also just be given prompts.
Look for keywords in these prompts that suggest a certain approach: The word “explain” suggests you should write an expository essay , while the word “describe” implies a descriptive essay . An argumentative essay might be prompted with the word “assess” or “argue.”
The vast majority of essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Almost all academic writing involves building up an argument, though other types of essay might be assigned in composition classes.
Essays can present arguments about all kinds of different topics. For example:
- In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text
- In a history essay, you might present an argument for the importance of a particular event
- In a politics essay, you might argue for the validity of a certain political theory
An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.
An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.
The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.
Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.
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Definition of essay
(Entry 1 of 2)
Definition of essay (Entry 2 of 2)
attempt , try , endeavor , essay , strive mean to make an effort to accomplish an end.
attempt stresses the initiation or beginning of an effort.
try is often close to attempt but may stress effort or experiment made in the hope of testing or proving something.
endeavor heightens the implications of exertion and difficulty.
essay implies difficulty but also suggests tentative trying or experimenting.
strive implies great exertion against great difficulty and specifically suggests persistent effort.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'essay.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback .
Middle French essai , ultimately from Late Latin exagium act of weighing, from Latin ex- + agere to drive — more at agent
14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4
14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2
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“Essay.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay. Accessed 3 Mar. 2023.
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What is an Essay?
10 May, 2020
11 minutes read
Author: Tomas White
Well, beyond a jumble of words usually around 2,000 words or so - what is an essay, exactly? Whether you’re taking English, sociology, history, biology, art, or a speech class, it’s likely you’ll have to write an essay or two. So how is an essay different than a research paper or a review? Let’s find out!
Defining the Term – What is an Essay?
The essay is a written piece that is designed to present an idea, propose an argument, express the emotion or initiate debate. It is a tool that is used to present writer’s ideas in a non-fictional way. Multiple applications of this type of writing go way beyond, providing political manifestos and art criticism as well as personal observations and reflections of the author.
An essay can be as short as 500 words, it can also be 5000 words or more. However, most essays fall somewhere around 1000 to 3000 words ; this word range provides the writer enough space to thoroughly develop an argument and work to convince the reader of the author’s perspective regarding a particular issue. The topics of essays are boundless: they can range from the best form of government to the benefits of eating peppermint leaves daily. As a professional provider of custom writing, our service has helped thousands of customers to turn in essays in various forms and disciplines.
Origins of the Essay
Over the course of more than six centuries essays were used to question assumptions, argue trivial opinions and to initiate global discussions. Let’s have a closer look into historical progress and various applications of this literary phenomenon to find out exactly what it is.
Today’s modern word “essay” can trace its roots back to the French “essayer” which translates closely to mean “to attempt” . This is an apt name for this writing form because the essay’s ultimate purpose is to attempt to convince the audience of something. An essay’s topic can range broadly and include everything from the best of Shakespeare’s plays to the joys of April.
The essay comes in many shapes and sizes; it can focus on a personal experience or a purely academic exploration of a topic. Essays are classified as a subjective writing form because while they include expository elements, they can rely on personal narratives to support the writer’s viewpoint. The essay genre includes a diverse array of academic writings ranging from literary criticism to meditations on the natural world. Most typically, the essay exists as a shorter writing form; essays are rarely the length of a novel. However, several historic examples, such as John Locke’s seminal work “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” just shows that a well-organized essay can be as long as a novel.
The Essay in Literature
The essay enjoys a long and renowned history in literature. They first began gaining in popularity in the early 16 th century, and their popularity has continued today both with original writers and ghost writers. Many readers prefer this short form in which the writer seems to speak directly to the reader, presenting a particular claim and working to defend it through a variety of means. Not sure if you’ve ever read a great essay? You wouldn’t believe how many pieces of literature are actually nothing less than essays, or evolved into more complex structures from the essay. Check out this list of literary favorites:
- The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
- Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
- Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
- High-Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never by Barbara Kingsolver
- Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
- Naked by David Sedaris
- Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
Pretty much as long as writers have had something to say, they’ve created essays to communicate their viewpoint on pretty much any topic you can think of!
The Essay in Academics
Not only are students required to read a variety of essays during their academic education, but they will likely be required to write several different kinds of essays throughout their scholastic career. Don’t love to write? Then consider working with a ghost essay writer ! While all essays require an introduction, body paragraphs in support of the argumentative thesis statement, and a conclusion, academic essays can take several different formats in the way they approach a topic. Common essays required in high school, college, and post-graduate classes include:
Five paragraph essay
This is the most common type of a formal essay. The type of paper that students are usually exposed to when they first hear about the concept of the essay itself. It follows easy outline structure – an opening introduction paragraph; three body paragraphs to expand the thesis; and conclusion to sum it up.
These essays are commonly assigned to explore a controversial issue. The goal is to identify the major positions on either side and work to support the side the writer agrees with while refuting the opposing side’s potential arguments.
Compare and Contrast essay
This essay compares two items, such as two poems, and works to identify similarities and differences, discussing the strength and weaknesses of each. This essay can focus on more than just two items, however. The point of this essay is to reveal new connections the reader may not have considered previously.
This essay has a sole purpose – defining a term or a concept in as much detail as possible. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not quite. The most important part of the process is picking up the word. Before zooming it up under the microscope, make sure to choose something roomy so you can define it under multiple angles. The definition essay outline will reflect those angles and scopes.
Perhaps the most fun to write, this essay focuses on describing its subject using all five of the senses. The writer aims to fully describe the topic; for example, a descriptive essay could aim to describe the ocean to someone who’s never seen it or the job of a teacher. Descriptive essays rely heavily on detail and the paragraphs can be organized by sense.
The purpose of this essay is to describe an idea, occasion or a concept with the help of clear and vocal examples. “Illustration” itself is handled in the body paragraphs section. Each of the statements, presented in the essay needs to be supported with several examples. Illustration essay helps the author to connect with his audience by breaking the barriers with real-life examples – clear and indisputable.
Being one the basic essay types, the informative essay is as easy as it sounds from a technical standpoint. High school is where students usually encounter with informative essay first time. The purpose of this paper is to describe an idea, concept or any other abstract subject with the help of proper research and a generous amount of storytelling.
This type of essay focuses on describing a certain event or experience, most often chronologically. It could be a historic event or an ordinary day or month in a regular person’s life. Narrative essay proclaims a free approach to writing it, therefore it does not always require conventional attributes, like the outline. The narrative itself typically unfolds through a personal lens, and is thus considered to be a subjective form of writing.
The purpose of the persuasive essay is to provide the audience with a 360-view on the concept idea or certain topic – to persuade the reader to adopt a certain viewpoint. The viewpoints can range widely from why visiting the dentist is important to why dogs make the best pets to why blue is the best color. Strong, persuasive language is a defining characteristic of this essay type.
The Essay in Art
Several other artistic mediums have adopted the essay as a means of communicating with their audience. In the visual arts, such as painting or sculpting, the rough sketches of the final product are sometimes deemed essays. Likewise, directors may opt to create a film essay which is similar to a documentary in that it offers a personal reflection on a relevant issue. Finally, photographers often create photographic essays in which they use a series of photographs to tell a story, similar to a narrative or a descriptive essay.
Drawing the line – question answered
“What is an Essay?” is quite a polarizing question. On one hand, it can easily be answered in a couple of words. On the other, it is surely the most profound and self-established type of content there ever was. Going back through the history of the last five-six centuries helps us understand where did it come from and how it is being applied ever since.
If you must write an essay, follow these five important steps to works towards earning the “A” you want:
- Understand and review the kind of essay you must write
- Brainstorm your argument
- Find research from reliable sources to support your perspective
- Cite all sources parenthetically within the paper and on the Works Cited page
- Follow all grammatical rules
Generally speaking, when you must write any type of essay, start sooner rather than later! Don’t procrastinate – give yourself time to develop your perspective and work on crafting a unique and original approach to the topic. Remember: it’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes (or three) look over your essay before handing in the final draft to your teacher or professor. Don’t trust your fellow classmates? Consider hiring an editor or a ghostwriter to help out!
If you are still unsure on whether you can cope with your task – you are in the right place to get help. HandMadeWriting is the perfect answer to the question “Who can write my essay?”
Best Essay Writing Services 2023
Student life can often be quite challenging because students have to deal with challenging college essay writing assignments. To facilitate the learning process, many services help you complete written work and get high scores. Now we will tell you about the best services that you can turn to and get high-quality papers. Essay Writing Service […]
A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death
Due to human nature, we draw conclusions only when life gives us a lesson since the experience of others is not so effective and powerful. Therefore, when analyzing and sorting out common problems we face, we may trace a parallel with well-known book characters or real historical figures. Moreover, we often compare our situations with […]
Nursing Research Paper Topics
Selecting an academic paper topic is a crucial step in the writing process. The variety of nursing research topics makes it challenging to find the appropriate paper theme. But if you choose a sound nursing research paper subject, it will contribute to a flawless thesis statement, using relevant resources, a smooth writing process, and impressive […]
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literature , a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language , national origin, historical period, genre , and subject matter.
For historical treatment of various literatures within geographical regions, see such articles as African literature ; African theatre ; Oceanic literature ; Western literature ; Central Asian arts ; South Asian arts ; and Southeast Asian arts . Some literatures are treated separately by language, by nation, or by special subject (e.g., Arabic literature , Celtic literature , Latin literature , French literature , Japanese literature , and biblical literature ).
Definitions of the word literature tend to be circular. The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary considers literature to be “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” The 19th-century critic Walter Pater referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms.” But such definitions assume that the reader already knows what literature is. And indeed its central meaning, at least, is clear enough. Deriving from the Latin littera , “a letter of the alphabet,” literature is first and foremost humankind’s entire body of writing; after that it is the body of writing belonging to a given language or people; then it is individual pieces of writing.
But already it is necessary to qualify these statements. To use the word writing when describing literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing. As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure. Yet through words literature elevates and transforms experience beyond “mere” pleasure. Literature also functions more broadly in society as a means of both criticizing and affirming cultural values.
The scope of literature
Literature is a form of human expression. But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not. The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer need not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.
The purest (or, at least, the most intense) literary form is the lyric poem, and after it comes elegiac, epic , dramatic, narrative, and expository verse. Most theories of literary criticism base themselves on an analysis of poetry , because the aesthetic problems of literature are there presented in their simplest and purest form. Poetry that fails as literature is not called poetry at all but verse . Many novels —certainly all the world’s great novels—are literature, but there are thousands that are not so considered. Most great dramas are considered literature (although the Chinese , possessors of one of the world’s greatest dramatic traditions, consider their plays, with few exceptions, to possess no literary merit whatsoever).
The Greeks thought of history as one of the seven arts, inspired by a goddess, the muse Clio. All of the world’s classic surveys of history can stand as noble examples of the art of literature, but most historical works and studies today are not written primarily with literary excellence in mind, though they may possess it, as it were, by accident.
The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature: its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism , although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists. Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama , and the arts.
Some personal documents ( autobiographies , diaries , memoirs , and letters ) rank among the world’s greatest literature. Some examples of this biographical literature were written with posterity in mind, others with no thought of their being read by anyone but the writer. Some are in a highly polished literary style; others, couched in a privately evolved language, win their standing as literature because of their cogency, insight, depth, and scope.
Many works of philosophy are classed as literature. The Dialogues of Plato (4th century bc ) are written with great narrative skill and in the finest prose; the Meditations of the 2nd-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius are a collection of apparently random thoughts, and the Greek in which they are written is eccentric . Yet both are classed as literature, while the speculations of other philosophers, ancient and modern, are not. Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated. This is particularly true of books of natural history, where the element of personal observation is of special importance. An excellent example is Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne (1789).
Oratory , the art of persuasion, was long considered a great literary art. The oratory of the American Indian , for instance, is famous, while in Classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory. Rome’s great orator Cicero was to have a decisive influence on the development of English prose style. Abraham Lincoln ’s Gettysburg Address is known to every American schoolchild. Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art. Most critics would not admit advertising copywriting, purely commercial fiction , or cinema and television scripts as accepted forms of literary expression, although others would hotly dispute their exclusion. The test in individual cases would seem to be one of enduring satisfaction and, of course, truth. Indeed, it becomes more and more difficult to categorize literature, for in modern civilization words are everywhere. Man is subject to a continuous flood of communication . Most of it is fugitive, but here and there—in high-level journalism, in television, in the cinema, in commercial fiction, in westerns and detective stories, and in plain, expository prose—some writing, almost by accident, achieves an aesthetic satisfaction, a depth and relevance that entitle it to stand with other examples of the art of literature.
What is a literary essay.
Juan Ortiz | | Others
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, father of the literary essay
The literary essay is counted as one of the major genres in literature. It is found alongside dramaturgy, narrative and poetry —although with a more didactic nuance—. It is a short text written in prose where the author analyzes, examines or interprets a topic in a subjective but documented way. Its purpose is to argue about a specific topic.
The themes for an essay are as varied as life itself. It has been written about politics, pedagogy, art or philosophy. The argumentative approach is based on the author's need to express their opinions about something. What is intended is to justify these arguments through research without becoming a technical work.
Table of Contents
- 1 Characteristics of a literary essay
- 2.1 Induction
- 2.2 Performance
- 2.3 Closing
- 3.1 analytical and deductive
- 4.1 literary essay of novels
- 4.2 philosophical literary essay
- 4.3 Mixed literary essays
- 5 How to write a literary essay
- 6 A little history about the literary essay
- 7 Examples of famous literary essays
Characteristics of a literary essay
A literary essay is not a thesis or a monograph - these works are more of a scientific quality. The essay is a brief and free exposition aimed at a wide audience. For this reason, it uses a language that seeks to be understood by the greatest number of people.
However, as a general rule he uses stylistic and poetic resources. These give greater liveliness to the argument that the author wishes to develop. In this way, the literary essay has certain characteristics necessary to include it within this category . Some of them are the following:
- Presents opinions based on the author's research work;
- It serves as a preliminary and educational text to generate debates;
- It is sensible writing that summarizes a topic of academic, moral, or social value (Wikipedia.org, 2022).
Parts of a literary essay
One of the greatest qualities of a literary essay is to be a free, indicative and suggestive document. It is flexible because its function is to allow the author to introduce a theme and approach it from his point of view. . But there are common features that usually make up a text of this type. This could be a model structure to develop an essay:
In this section The principle of the argument of the topic to be developed in the following paragraphs is exposed. In general, it seeks to be brief to give way to the content.
It is here that the author raises the arguments themselves. Theses and theories are exposed. You can also cite sources of information to inform the reader of the foundations of your study. This section is usually the longest and most complex.
It is about the conclusions reached by the essayist. Here are the final arguments of the idea , and those characteristics that support the writer's arguments are highlighted. Usually it is not a very broad section.
Internal structures that a literary essay can have
Thanks to the freedom offered by itself a literary essay, its internal structure can be arranged in various ways. It all depends on how the author intends to shape his idea—conclusions before development or development before introduction. Depending on the case, we have these variants:
analytical and deductive
Through this composition, the author first states the main idea of his argument. He then proceeds to develop the theme, provide the reader with information, and examine his theory in more detail.
Synthesizing and inductive
This type of structure examines the arguments at the beginning of the text, and leaves for the end the presentation of the thesis or conclusions.
In this case, the thesis is exposed at the beginning of the essay. In the center are written the arguments and data collected by the essayist. Likewise, the thesis of the beginning is reformulated from the data, to later use the conclusions (idunneditorial.com, 2022).
Types of literary essay
Literary essays have tried to classify themselves on many occasions. Nevertheless, what differentiates them has to do with the themes or positions they address. Some examples of this are:
literary essay of novels
This type of essay seeks to analyze the narrative content -usually complex- to create debates about them. An example of this is García Márquez : story of a deicide, of the writer Mario Vargas Llosa.
philosophical literary essay
There are specific essays on philosophical topics. However, in addition to addressing issues related to life or death, love or society..., this type of text is characterized by the use of aesthetic narrative techniques as literary devices.
Mixed literary essays
We can find tests that address more than one topic. It may be that the author learned to speak of narrative-history, poetry-philosophy or society-politics.
How to write a literary essay
Before taking on the task of writing an essay, it is necessary to carry out a research process on the topic to be discussed. It is very helpful to create a list of ideas, classify them, and discard those that do not seem convenient. .
According to your criteria, an author can use or highlight a natural or artificial formula to help him structure his topic. These might be:
- Rhetoricians: to convince the reader.
- Chronological: associated with the explanation of a phenomenon.
- Didactic: developed in such a way that they go from the simple to the complex.
- In the media really : from the question to the starting point of development.
With this clear, it is possible to establish a specific distribution. Ideally, you should write with the aim of offering a broader understanding, with a mature and satisfactory result for both the essayist and the reader.
On the other hand, when writing an argumentative essay, the thesis is the main part. In it the author must present his position.
In the case of an expository literary essay, the essayist must offer a clear definition of the topic. It is not recommended that the text exceed one or two paragraphs (Wikipedia, 2022). The conclusion is just as important as the other parts. However, it should be the most concise.
A little history about the literary essay
Throughout our tradition there has been a remarkable inventory of thinkers who exposed their ideas to the world. Nevertheless, the first record we have of a literary essay proper —named as such for its stylistic novelty— on 1580 . In this year the French writer Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1553-1582) gave his trials . The term comes from their native language, and means "attempt."
On the other hand, we have Francis Bocon (1561-1626), who would publish his own trials in 1597. Still, It would not be until the eighteenth century that this literary genre would take the necessary strength to become what it is today. Movements such as the Enlightenment and bourgeois Individualism brought essays to the common people by the hand of Samuel Johnson or William Hazlitt (biografiasyvidas.com, 2022).
Examples of famous literary essays
The literary essay has served for many people gifted with genius to express their ideas. In this sense, the annals of history have collected some of the most brilliant and transcendental expositions of essays that exist. An example of them are the following works:
- Essays on morality and politics (1597), by Francis Bacon;
- The Prince (1550 ) Niccolo Machiavelli ;
- The poetic principle (1850) of Edgar Allan Poe ;
- Don Quixote Meditations (1914), by José Ortega y Gasset;
- Law spirit (1748) by Montesquieu;
- the metaphor again (1928) of Jorge Luis Borges.
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"What is Literature?" and Other Essays
Jean-paul sartre, introduction by steven ungar, product details.
Print on Demand
$38.00 • £33.95 • €34.95
Publication Date: 10/15/1988
* Academic Trade
Not for sale in UK & British Commonwealth (except Canada)
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- LITERARY CRITICISM: European: French
- About This Book
- About the Author(s)
- Table of Contents
“What is Literature?” remains the most significant critical landmark of French literature since World War II. Neither abstract nor abstruse, it is a brilliant, provocative performance by a writer more inspired than cautious.
“What is Literature?” challenges anyone who writes as if literature could be extricated from history or society. But Jean-Paul Sartre does more than indict. He offers a definitive statement about the phenomenology of reading, and he goes on to provide a dashing example of how to write a history of literature that takes ideology and institutions into account.
This new edition of “What is Literature?” also collects three other crucial essays of Sartre’s for the first time. The essays presenting Sartre’s monthly, Les Temps modernes , and on the peculiarly French manner of nationalizing literature do much to create a context for Sartre’s treatise. “Black Orpheus” has been for many years a key text for the study of black and third-world literatures.
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Awards & Accolades
- Jean-Paul Sartre Is Winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature
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- Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick, coauthors of The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment , spoke with the Wall Street Journal about “the amendment that remade America” —by becoming the basis for every claim against a state government for violating individual rights.
- Tony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor , spoke with Inside Higher Ed about the vital importance of mentoring relationships and strategies for expanding opportunities for student–teacher connection .
- Lapham’s Quarterly published “Ambushing Geronimo,” an excerpt from Samuel Redman’s Prophets and Ghosts: The Story of Salvage Anthropology .
- At Time , The Future of Money author Eswar Prasad touted cryptocurrency’s “bright” future— if governments can help manage the risks involved .
- On the podcast BBC History Extra , The Horde author Marie Favereau described daily life in the Mongol empire .
- Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, author of The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics , spoke with the New York Times about the role of politics at SCOTUS (and when to curtail his own role there).
- In the New York Times , Tomorrow, the World author Stephen Wertheim called for Americans to end the “imperial presidency.”
- Lawrence Gostin, author of Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future , spoke with CNN’s Erin Burnett about full FDA approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine —and the slew of vaccination mandates he hopes will follow.
- Ugly Feelings , Our Aesthetic Categories , and Theory of the Gimmick author Sianne Ngai spoke with the Scandinavian art review Kunstkritikk about why, in a world that is wrong, art needs to embrace error .
- At Foreign Policy , Time’s Monster author Priya Satia called on Afghan “heirs of partition” to reckon with South Asia’s colonial past in order to chart a sustainable future for their country .
- Contributing to the Los Angeles Review of Books series “Antiracism in the Contemporary University,” Fugitive Pedagogy author Jarvis Givens unearthed the long roots of antiracist teaching .
- Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow, the World , argued at the Washington Post that Americans must come to terms with loss in Afghanistan —or risk repeating the same mistakes again.
- As delta variant cases surge, Lawrence Gostin, author of Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future , argued in the Washington Post that the Biden administration still has powerful as-yet-untapped, fully legal methods to further drive up United States vaccination rates .
- On PBS’s The Open Mind , The Future of Money author Eswar Prasad explained how cryptocurrencies are impacting the future of markets and global stability .
- Time published an excerpt from Patricia Sullivan’s Justice Rising on how Robert F. Kennedy shaped his brother’s response to the Civil Rights Movement .
- At the Washington Post , Indentured Students author Elizabeth Tandy Shermer unpacked the purposeful policy choices of the 1960s that established the student loan industry rather than truly solving cost problems at colleges and universities .
- The Guardian profiled The Black Atlantic , Against Race , and Darker than Blue author Paul Gilroy, calling him the “most vital guide to our age of crisis.”
- At the Atlantic , William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , looked back at the life and legacy of civil rights leader Bob Moses .
- Tom Zoellner discussed his National Book Critics Circle Award–winning Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire on The Majority Report with Sam Seder .
- On the Bloomberg podcast Stephanomics , The Future of Money author Eswar Prasad discussed the “fundamental threat” posed to central banks around the world by Bitcoin and its digital brethren —and the threat to personal privacy posed by alternative, government-sponsored digital currencies.
- In the New York Times , The Future of Money author Eswar Prasad made the case that cash money will soon be obsolete —which is why an increasing number of nations are experimenting with central bank digital currencies.
- From Rebel to Ruler author Tony Saich was interviewed by the New Yorker about the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party —and the roots of Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism.
- O. Carter Snead’s What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics inspired a National Review analysis of comedian Bo Burnham’s Netflix special Inside .
- On PBS’s Amanpour & Co. , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew drew a direct line between the Vietnam War and the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol —and weighed in on the Biden administration’s new strategy to counter domestic terrorism.
- Daphne Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution , spoke with Ms. Magazine about the legacy of pioneers in Black feminist sound .
- On CNN’s GPS , China’s Good War author Rana Mitter’s spoke with host Fareed Zakaria and fellow regional experts Elizabeth Economy and Jiayang Fan about the centennial of China’s ruling party—and what lies ahead for the global superpower ( Part I | Part II ).
- At History Today , Stella Ghervas, author of Conquering Peace , considered whether nationalism is still Europe’s dominant political ideology .
- In the New York Times , Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet , discussed Washington’s innovative solution to, not meetings that should have been emails, but “letters that should have been meetings.”
- On his podcast Science Clear + Vivid , Lessons from Plants author Beronda L. Montgomery discussed with actor Alan Alda the surprising ways plants connect, communicate, and collaborate .
- At Noēma Magazine , read Time’s Monster author Priya Satia on Winston Churchill’s problematic legacy .
- Bonnie Honig, author of A Feminist Theory of Refusal , spoke with The Nation about “disaster patriarchy” and how feminism offers the best way to make sense of the post-Trump moment .
- Talking Points Memo published an excerpt from Orville Vernon Burton and Armand Derfner’s Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court on how the Roberts court laid the groundwork for 2021’s “all-out assault on voting rights.”
- Priya Satia, author of Time’s Monster: How History Makes History , wrote at Al Jazeera about Palestine and the myths of British imperial benevolence .
- Amid debates over anti-racist curricula in K–12 schools, Fugitive Pedagogy author Jarvis Givens highlighted, at the Atlantic , the Black teachers who since the nineteenth century have been deeply engaged in the work of challenging racial domination in American schools .
- In the Washington Post , Eswar Prasad, author of the forthcoming The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance , exploded five popular myths about cryptocurrency .
- Stylist published an excerpt from Beronda L. Montgomery’s Lessons from Plants on how the common counsel “bloom where you’re planted” ignores how plants, in their attempts to flourish, actively participate in and transform their environments .
- Tacky’s Revolt author Vincent Brown spoke with the Boston Globe about what an eighteenth-century rebellion can teach the twenty-first century about dismantling racism .
- ProMarket published an excerpt from Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin, and Simon Bunel’s The Power of Creative Destruction on barriers to entry as a source of income inequality .
- The New Republic explored how Unbound and Finding Time author Heather Boushey, along with Jared Bernstein and Cecilia Rouse, are shaping the Biden administration’s ambitious economic policy .
- At Boston Review , Democracy by Petition author Daniel Carpenter considered how the path of the “citizens’ petition,” first sent to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 2013, proposing a ban on menthol cigarettes recalls a lost political tradition in which the complaints of any citizen could get a hearing publicly in Congress.
- Fast Company published an excerpt from Erik Larson’s The Myth of Artificial Intelligence on the “technological kitsch” that threatens to take over Silicon Valley .
- Beronda L. Montgomery, author of Lessons from Plants , discussed plant memory, senses, and communication with UK gardening columnist Jane Perrone on Perrone’s podcast On the Ledge .
- William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , described at the Atlantic how racism entrenched in the historical record has obscured understanding of past Black American lives—and how advances in technology and new scholarly approaches are helping historians rectify the issue .
- With the deadline for the 2021 FAFSA looming, Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, author of the forthcoming Indentured Students , wrote at the Washington Post about the unfairness and complexity at the heart of the American system of financial aid for higher education .
- As part of their series Spoken Dialogues , Rolling Stone hosted Daphne Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution , and Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America , for a genre- and generation-spanning conversation on Black sound and performance .
- At the Atlantic , The End of Adolescence coauthors Nancy Hill and Alexis Redding unpacked the economic reasons modern young adults seem slow to “grow up.”
- In the New York Times , Eswar Prasad, author of the forthcoming The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance , considered what the rise and fall of Chinese fintech giant Ant Group means for financial innovation in China .
- At Time , Priya Satia, author of Time’s Monster: How History Makes History , analyzed the Biden administration’s planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan .
- In the wake of the killing of Duante Wright by police after a traffic stop in Minnesota, Traveling Black author Mia Bay spoke with Car & Driver about the continuing strictures placed formally or informally on Black freedom of movement .
- At the Washington Post , How Girls Achieve author Sally Nuamah underscored how the killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, by police fits a common pattern in which Black girls are perceived to be more dangerous than their age-peers from other racial backgrounds—and are punished at higher rates and more severely for relatively minor infractions.
- A New Yorker feature informed by Beth Lew-Williams’s The Chinese Must Go explored recent violence against Asian-Americans in the context of the largely-forgotten purges from the United States of Chinese and Chinese-descended Americans .
- At USA Today , Why We Act author Catherine Sanderson made the case that doing the right thing is socially contagious—even for police .
- On Artforum ’s web series “Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists,” Liner Notes for the Revolution author Daphne Brooks spoke with poet/singer/songwriter Jamila Woods about archives as wellsprings, the lifeworlds of Black women and girls, and what it means to practice care in all its many registers .
- The Education Trap author Cristina Viviana Groeger discussed with Jacobin how education as a solution for inequality is a “useful myth” for elites jealously guarding money and power .
- David Alan Sklansky, author of A Pattern of Violence: How the Law Classifies Crimes and What It Means for Justice , argued at Time that how we define “violent crime” in the United States shapes who gets punished—and who doesn’t .
- Andy Horowitz’s Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 was recently named winner of the Bancroft Prize ; Nicole Fleetwood’s Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration and Tom Zoellner’s Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire won National Book Critics Circle Awards in the categories of criticism and nonfiction, respectively.
- Lessons from Plants author Beronda Montgomery discussed the evolutionary and adaptive genius of vegetation with Queer Eye ’s Jonathan Van Ness on his podcast Getting Curious .
- Tae-Yeoun Keum, author of Plato and the Mythic Tradition in Political Thought , explored how philosophy might embrace supposedly manipulative mythmaking for liberal ends in a conversation with BLARB: The Blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books .
- (3/18/21) Gabriel Winant, author of The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America , spoke with Dissent about deindustrialization, the care economy, and the living legacies of the industrial workers’ movement .
- (3/17/21) At the Wall Street Journal , Jake Rosenfeld, author of You’re Paid What You’re Worth: And Other Myths of the Modern Economy , explored the practical difficulties of paying workers based on performance .
- (3/12/21) At the New York Times , Daphne Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution , uncovered the secret history of women writing album liner notes .
- (3/3/21) Thirty years after the fateful attack, Felicia Angeja Viator, author of To Live and Defy in LA , argued in the Washington Post that Los Angeles police officers’ brutal beating of Rodney King illustrates how public shock and anger cannot be assumed, on their own, to translate into meaningful reform .
- (02/28/21) Healthy Buildings coauthor Joseph Allen spoke with Bloomberg Opinion about the costs of remote work—and the playbook that can help businesses reopen safely .
- (02/25/21) Jezebel published an excerpt from Daphne Brooks’s Liner Notes for the Revolution on the shift in the center of American music from Bob Dylan to Beyoncé Knowles .
- (2/12/21) The Education Trap author Cristina Viviana Groeger made the case in Dissent that educational systems can just as easily reproduce inequality as mitigate it .
- (2/2/21) Out of the Ordinary author Marc Stears spoke with Prospect about how artists and writers healed a divided nation during the twentieth century—and how their current counterparts can do it again .
- (1/30/21) At Foreign Policy , Bronwen Everill, author of Not Made by Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition , explained the global context in which Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad operated (Canada was only one possible destination).
- (1/23/21) Engadget published an excerpt from Frank Pasquale’s New Laws of Robotics on how the promise of faster, cheaper, and more efficient medical diagnoses generated by algorithmic intelligence can also serve as a double-edged sword , potentially cutting off access to cutting-edge, high quality care provided by human doctors.
- (1/22/21) Gabriel Winant, author of The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America , spoke with WGBH (Boston, MA)’s Innovation Hub about the serious consequences of America’s loss in manufacturing and concurrent gain in health care as prominent job sectors .
- (1/20/21) At the Institute of Art and Ideas site iai news , The Education Trap author Cristina Groeger explained how the American K–12 education system compounds existing inequalities .
- (1/18/21 for both) On CNN’s AC360 , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe discussed what happens now that more than eighty individuals face federal charges from their actions during the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol . Belew also spoke with the New Yorker about the decades-long build-up to the riot .
- (1/23/21) Marc Stears, author of Out of the Ordinary: How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How It Can Again , spoke with the Economist about Orwell, Priestley, and the politics of the ordinary .
- (1/21/21) Philip Coleman, coeditor of The Selected Letters of John Berryman , discussed the poet’s work and legacy on the Irish radio program Books for Breakfast .
- (1/19/21) At a live online event hosted by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello on the eve of the 2021 presidential inauguration, Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution , discussed political violence in early America .
- (1/18/21) William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , wrote in the Washington Post about Hiram Revels, a Mississippi minister who in 1870 became the first Black man elected to the United States Senate .
- (1/14/21) In The New Republic , American Apocalypse author Matthew Avery Sutton traced how the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed the “darkest nightmares” of white evangelical America .
- (1/11/21; 1/13/21) On MSNBC’s The ReidOut , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew unpacked how the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 fits into America’s legacy of lynching . On CNN’s AC360 , she and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe described to Anderson Cooper the prior planning involved in the attack. And with NPR’s Code Switch , Belew analyzed the symbols of white nationalism that made it inside the building .
- (12/29) Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy , spoke with Vox about the irony that military superiority has made America less safe .
- (1/7) On NPR’s All Things Considered , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew analyzed the domestic terror events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 —“an attack on our democracy and its institutions.”
- (1/4) Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? author Alexander Keyssar spoke with the Christian Science Monitor about the “wild week ahead” for American politics.
- At Foreign Affairs , China’s Good War author Rana Mitter described “the world China wants” going, at last, into 2021.
- Aaron Griffith, author of God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America , argued at Christianity Today that advocating for the prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination for incarcerated people could save many lives—and is the Christian thing to do .
- On the National Constitution Center podcast We the People , The Living Presidency author Sai Prakash considered the question of whether sitting presidents can pardon themselves .
- Dominique Kirchner Reill, author of The Fiume Crisis , recounted at Zócalo Public Square how, in 1920, charismatic populist Gabriele D’Annunzio “destroyed Christmas.”
- Lapham’s Quarterly published an excerpt from Mahmood Mamdani’s Neither Settler nor Native on the Supreme Court decisions that created “Indian Country.”
- On WAMU’s 1A , Burning the Books author Richard Ovenden considered the danger of deliberate destruction of documents by Trump administration officials on their way out the door .
- Benjamin Francis-Fallon, author of The Rise of the Latino Vote , explained in the Washington Post how 2020 election results affirmed decades-old political divisions among the American voters frequently lumped together as “Latinos.”
- Jon Butler discussed God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan on the First Things Podcast .
- Literary Hub ’s “Raise UP Reading List” ( #RaiseUP ), created in conjunction with University Press Week 2020 , includes Racism in America: A Reader along with other new works on the timely subjects of climate change, racial justice, and voting rights.
- (10/27) Frank Pasquale, author of New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI , spoke with Commonweal about what robots can’t do .
- (10/19) Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy , spoke with Teen Vogue about America’s rise to superpower status—and subsequent decline .
- (10/22) On the WGBH (Boston, MA) podcast The Scrum , Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? author Alexander Keyssar traced the long history of failed attempts to reform or eliminate the electoral college—and warn of how little guidance it would actually provide in a close, hotly contested election .
- (10/21) On NPR’s All Things Considered , Why We Act author Catherine Sanderson analyzed what gives those who witness injustice the moral courage to speak up .
- Rana Mitter, author of China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism , discussed China and the global order on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week .
- Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy , argued in the New York Times that America has “no reason” to be so powerful .
- The Guardian published an excerpt from Frank Pasquale’s New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI .
- On NPR’s Throughline , unpacked the rushed, fraught, and imperfect process that resulted in today’s highly controversial system .
- On MSNBC’s The Last Word , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew analyzed how Donald Trump’s “stand back and stand by” comment during the first Presidential debate highlights a larger plot to subvert democracy .
- The September 2020 issue of Artforum features an in-depth conversation between Nicole Fleetwood and Rachel Kushner , as well as a project statement from Professor Fleetwood in which she introduces some of of the artists featured in Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration : Tameca Cole , James Hough , Mark Loughney , and Jared Owens .
- Andy Horowitz, author of Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 , spoke with WBUR (Boston, MA)’s On Point about the structural issues that affected America’s recovery from the now-legendary hurricane—and what more needs to be done .
- At Time , Freedom: An Unruly History author Annelien de Dijn traced how the definition of “freedom” split between political liberals and conservatives .
- The documentary film based on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century can now be streamed on Netflix .
- Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution , made the case at USA Today that presidential candidate Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris for Vice President strengthens the odds that a future Biden administration’s cabinet will look “like America.”
- At Zócalo Public Square , Victoria de Grazia, author of The Perfect Fascist , described why the oversimplification of the term “fascism” in recent public discourse is dangerous .
- As the 2020 hurricane season moves into full swing, Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 author Andy Horowitz spoke with WWNO (New Orleans, LA)’s Coastal Desk about the storm’s lessons for the Gulf Coast .
- Bloomberg Businessweek checked in with The Color of Money author Mehrsa Baradaran for a report on rapper and activist Killer Mike’s longstanding support of the #BankBlack movement .
- Alexander Keyssar, author of Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? , spoke with WBUR (Boston, MA)’s On Point about the endurance of the problematic fixture of American democracy .
- At the Washington Post , Tom Zoellner, author of Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire , (re)introduced the forgotten holiday “August First Day,” which commemorates Britain’s passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834 —legislation that marked the beginning of legal freedom for 800,000 enslaved people across its many colonial holdings.
- Atomic Doctors author James L. Nolan, Jr., spoke with Inside Edition about the discovery of his grandfather’s role in helping to build the atomic bomb .
- At the New York Times , Alexander Keyssar, author of Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? , delineated the white supremacist beliefs propping up the electoral college .
- Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness , argued in the Boston Globe that “words aren’t enough” from companies that claim to support the Black Lives Matter movement .
- At The Hill , Shields of the Republic author Mira Rapp-Hooper warned that in order to protect American and European security, the Senate must block the Trump administration’s planned drawdown of American troops from Germany .
- William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , explained in the Hattiesburg American how the 1910 Confederate monument at Forrest County Courthouse, Mississippi, pays tribute to “a past that never was.”
- ARTnews featured an in-depth interview with Nicole Fleetwood, author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration , and artists Tameca Cole, Russell Craig, and Jesse Krimes, whose work is featured in the book .
- Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money , contributed to the New York Times special project on inequality, “The America We Need,” with a fiery critique of the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society .
- Lapham’s Quarterly published “How Is a Disaster Made?” , excerpted from Andy Horowitz’s Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 .
- In an American Prospect essay lauded by Senator and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau originator Elizabeth Warren , Adam Levitin and Susan Wachter, coauthors of The Great American Housing Bubble , argued that changes proposed by the Trump administration to radically ease mortgage lending standards will undermine the Dodd-Frank Act and lead to future financial crises .
- At Dissent , Marking Time author Nicole Fleetwood analyzed James Hough’s painting How Big House Products Makes Boxers through a lens clarified by a pandemic disease that disproportionately puts at risk the lives of the incarcerated .
- Priya Satia, author of the forthcoming Time’s Monster: How History Makes History , wrote at Slate about George Orwell’s stint as a police officer in colonial Burma—and how his belief that policing and incarceration are the essence of oppression can be used today to interpret reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement .
- In a feature profile, The Chronicle of Higher Education declared Theory of the Gimmick author Sianne Ngai to be the “most influential literary theorist of her generation.”
- William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , discussed with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer what to do about Confederate (and non-Confederate) statues and monuments as their, in many cases, outright racist histories are finally acknowledged .
- On Bloomberg Businessweek , Tacky’s Revolt author Vincent Brown traced active resistance to enslavement across the British Empire—and how a history of enslavement still marks Black people for victimization today .
- In a wide-ranging interview, Sianne Ngai, author of Theory of the Gimmick , spoke with The Nation about Puff Daddy, the Fyre Festival…and capitalism’s shiny broken promises .
- Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money , argued at The American Prospect that the American ideals of justice (and peace) for all cannot be realized until America’s racial wealth gap—in areas including housing, banking, and income—is conquered .
- On The Modern Art Notes Podcast , Marking Time author Nicole Fleetwood explicated how imprisoned individuals create art in an attempt to resist the brutality and depravity of American incarceration .
- Writing with Keisha N. Blain, Tom Zoellner, author of Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire , wrote at The Guardian about the history of “establishment thinking” that frames change—like that proposed by Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police activism—as inherently dangerous .
- Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America , argued in the New York Times that George Floyd’s death resulted from a “failure of generations of leadership” ; at Boston Review , she explicated the historical context behind the ongoing “Minneapolis Uprising.”
- At USA Today , Why We Act author Catherine Sanderson and Harvard Kennedy School Professor Cornell William Brooks analyzed Floyd’s murder and explored how to encourage bystander action when an ethical response is often personally risky .
- On the Australian radio program Uncommon Sense , John Keane, author of The New Despotism , discussed how anti-democratic practices by despotic governments are sweeping the world .
- Black Agenda Report spoke with Joshua Bennett about Being Property Once Myself and the idea of Black Studies as an “ecological critique.”
- Literary Hub published “On the City of Florence’s Struggle to Get Back Dante’s Body,” excerpted from Guy Raffa’s Dante’s Bones: How a Poet Invented Italy .
- Discover Magazine published an excerpt from Catherine Sanderson’s Why We Act on the “bystander effect”—and how to overcome it .
- At Foreign Policy , Mira Rapp-Hooper, author of Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Peril of America’s Alliances , explained how the COVID-19 pandemic is hardening U.S.–China competition .
- Samuel Zipp, author of The Idealist , spoke at length with Rorotoko about Wendell Willkie’s quest to build one world .
- Tacky’s Revolt author Vincent Brown spoke with the Boston Globe about conceiving of slavery not as a neutral socioeconomic framework but an ongoing military conflict .
- At Bloomberg Law , Power after Carbon author Peter Fox-Penner, writing with Olena Pechak and Matthew Lillie, considered whether artificial intelligence will increase or decrease power grid efficiency .
- From Here to There author Michael Bond spoke with CBC Radio’s The Spark about navigation as an “essential survival skill” ; Wired published an excerpt from the book on why humans “totally freak out” when they get lost .
- Sai Prakash, author of The Living Presidency , argued in the Wall Street Journal that SCOTUS must strike down state laws constraining the choice of Electoral College voters .
- In the Washington Post , Battling Bella author Leandra Ruth Zarnow contrasted the FX television series “Mrs. America”’s treatment of Bella Abzug to that of series protagonist (and conservative) Phyllis Schlafly .
- At First Things , Virtue Politics author James Hankins warned of the dangers of relying too heavily on “imprudent expertise” when making political decisions .
- Kino Marquee, the producers of a documentary based on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century , announced they will be screening the film online starting on May 1 .
- Why We Act author Catherine Sanderson wrote at Psychology Today about the social challenges of calling out poor behavior —such as Vice President Mike Pence’s choice to visit the Mayo Clinic without a face mask.
- Capital and Ideology author Thomas Piketty spoke with Democracy Now! and New York Magazine ’s “Intelligencer.”
- The New York Review of Books published an excerpt from Nicole Fleetwood’s Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration along with selected art from the book.
- At Harvard Business Review , Joseph Allen and John Macomber, coauthors of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity , explained the factors that make an office building “healthy” in an era of respiratory pandemics .
- Wired published an excerpt from Christopher Wanjek’s Spacefarers on “how space tries to kill you.”
- On WBUR (Boston, MA)’s Here & Now , Stewards of the Market author Mitchel Abolafia explained the Federal Reserve’s recent actions to support the U.S. economy .
- At The Hill , legal scholar and The Living Presidency author Sai Prakash responded to Donald Trump’s statement, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
- Why We Act author Catherine Sanderson spoke with KQED (San Francisco, CA)’s Forum about the “bystander effect” and how to be more brave in the face of wrongdoing .
- At USA Today , Healthy Buildings coauthor Joseph Allen considered the question of whether there is COVID-19 in your car .
- Via Instagram, Nicole Fleetwood discussed Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration with Dr. Cheryl Finlay from Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College’s AUC Art Collective .
- Peter Fox-Penner, author of Power after Carbon , wrote at the Boston Globe about the “green opportunity” that can be discovered within the COVID-19 crisis .
- Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money , spoke with WBUR (Boston, MA)’s On Point about what can be done during and after the COVID-19 pandemic to save America’s small businesses .
- At the Washington Post , Out of My Skull coauthor James Danckert explained how to conceive of boredom not as a problem, but as a cognitive tool .
- Unbound author Heather Boushey argued in an American Prospect roundtable that COVID-19 has liberated massive public spending…but Americans must beware of austerity demands from the government once the crisis passes .
- Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution , wrote at Time about the Founding Fathers’ understanding that a strong central authority is needed in times of crisis—when state governments won’t, or can’t, coordinate on their own .
- Healthy Buildings coauthor Joseph Allen, writing with Juliette Kayyem, argued in USA Today that scientific projections are converging, and a national plan is necessary in order to successfully battle the pandemic .
- At War on the Rocks , Mira Rapp-Hooper, author of Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Peril of America’s Alliances , considered what U.S.–China relations will look like after the pandemic .
- Healthy Buildings coauthor Joseph G. Allen explained at the Washington Post why you—yes, you!—need to wear a mask .
- James Hankins, author of Virtue Politics , wrote at Quillette about Black Death–era social distancing —including efforts among the wealthy to seek refuge in relatively untarnished rural areas.
- At the Washington Post , Animal City author Andrew Robichaud considered what the popularity of Netflix’s “sordid human drama” Tiger King says about Americans themselves .
- Capital and Ideology author Thomas Piketty spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Balance of Power about how the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the economy .
- At BBC Science Focus , Christopher Wanjek, author of Spacefarers , made the case for dreaming bigger (or rather, further) than Mars when considering the future of human space colonization .
- Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money , considered at The American Prospect how responses to the COVID-19 pandemic should inform America’s ongoing challenges in areas like public health and climate change .
- At American Heritage , Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution , explained Washington’s foresight in crafting his Cabinet into a vitally important governing tool .
- John Eastwood, coauthor of Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom , spoke with the Washington Post about how researchers of boredom are responding to pandemic-related mass self-isolation measures .
- At the Washington Post , The Idealist author Samuel Zipp considered Wendell Willkie’s ideas about internationalism in light of current panic over porous borders and pandemic illness .
- Capital and Ideology author Thomas Piketty spoke with The Nation about confronting mass inequality during a global pandemic .
- Healthy Buildings coauthor Joseph G. Allen wrote at the Washington Post about the relatively small risk to end-users of COVID-19 borne by shipped packages and grocery items ; at USA Today , he (writing with Marc Lipsitch) warned of the greater risk—and advised on what to do— if someone in your home is sick with (presumed or confirmed) COVID-19 .
- Michael J. Graetz, coauthor of The Wolf at the Door: The Menace of Economic Insecurity and How to Fight It , spoke with The Hill about how the current financial crisis could be easier to recover from than the Great Recession — if policymakers play their cards right.
- Adam Levitin, coauthor of The Great American Housing Bubble , argued in the New York Times (writing with Satyam Khanna) that the best way to stanch economic bleeding from COVID-19 shutdowns is to enact a temporary national moratorium on small business debt collections .
- Ben Buchanan, author of The Hacker and the State , spoke with The Diplomat about “the new normal of geopolitics.”
- Capitalism, Alone author Branko Milanovic argued at Foreign Affairs that, rather than widespread illness, the “real danger” of the current international COVID-19 response is “social collapse.”
- Sir Peter Gluckman, coauthor of Ingenious: The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation , discussed unforeseen consequences of technology —including the faster spread of infectious disease—on the New Zealand radio program The Sunday Session .
- On the podcast Health Care Rounds , Exposed author Christopher Robertson discussed American health insurance, or lack thereof, during the COVID-19 pandemic .
- Jim Downs, author of the forthcoming (January 2021) Maladies of Empire: How Slavery, Imperialism, and War Transformed Medicine , wrote at the Atlantic about past “epidemics America got wrong” due to government inaction or delay .
- On the Harvard Law School podcast Deep Background , Richard J. Lazarus, author of The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court , considered the question, suddenly relevant to millions of Americans, of where public health stops and individual liberty begins .
- As borders close and international air travel precipitously declines, Samuel Zipp, author of The Idealist , recounted the tireless efforts of Wendell Willkie, the “last internationalist,” on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live .
- On KPFA’s About Health , Shaken Brain author Elizabeth Sandel, MD, described how concussions occur, symptoms, the best treatments, and potential long-term consequences .
- At USA Today , Joseph G. Allen, coauthor of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity , explained the new-to-many concept of “social distancing” ; at Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge , he weighed in on how the COVID-19 pandemic will change business practices .
- At the Chronicle of Higher Education , Michelle Miller, author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology , advised on how to get courses “online in a hurry.”
- Tony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor , described to WAMU’s 1A what widespread campus closures mean for lower-income students .
- Felicia Angeja Viator, author of To Live and Defy in LA , spoke with Music Journalism Insider about how gangsta rap changed America .
- As many Americans settle into their couches and others attempt to triage competing demands from work and family, Daniel Milo, author of Good Enough: The Tolerance for Mediocrity in Nature and Society , spoke with CBC Radio’s Ideas about when to push back against “the tyranny of the exceptional.”
- Thomas Piketty discussed Capital and Ideology with Fast Company , who also published an excerpt from the book.
- On WBUR’s Here & Now , Richard Lazarus, author of The Rule of Five , recounted the tale of environmental lawyer Joe Mendelson, whose successful 2007 case, Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency , laid the groundwork for many of former President Obama’s climate policies .
- What Stars Are Made Of author Donovan Moore introduced readers of BBC Science Focus to the astronomic genius of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin .
- At Knowable , Tom Siegfried, author of The Number of the Heavens , reported on the current state of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence .
- As coronavirus panic grips the nation, Joseph G. Allen, coauthor of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity , argued in the New York Times that your building can make you sick or keep you well .
- Benjamin Francis-Fallon’s The Rise of the Latino Vote informed a Mother Jones analysis of the popularity of presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders among Latinx voters during the 2020 Super Tuesday primary .
- Tony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor , was interviewed for a New Yorker feature on the way programs like Prep for Prep, which helps low-income New York City students get into selective private schools, obscure deeper inequalities in the system .
- On the National Constitution Center podcast We the People , Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution , discussed how Washington conceived of civic virtue, honor, and public service both as a general and as president .
- Talk Radio’s America author Brian Rosenwald explained on Texas Public Radio’s The Source how conservative talk radio—no longer even attempting to be fair and balanced; instead explicitly partisan—transformed American politics .
- On CNN’s GPS , The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon explained to Fareed Zakaria why prices in America are so high .
- “How North Korean Hackers Rob Banks around the World,” excerpted from Ben Buchanan’s The Hacker and the State , was published at Wired .
- Richard J. Lazarus, author of The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court , wrote at Bloomberg Environment about the thusfar inept manner in which the Trump administration has sought to dismantle Obama-era environmental protection .
- The Privileged Poor author Tony Jack was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education for their feature “How to Make College a Better Bet for More People.”
- Thomas Piketty discussed Capital and Ideology on the BBC World Service program Newsday and at Times Higher Education .
- On the PBS News program Amanpour & Co. , Unbound author Heather Boushey explained who the U.S. economy isn’t working for .
- At the Washington Post , Ben Buchanan, author of The Hacker and the State , debunked common myths about cyberwar ; on the CBS News podcast Intelligence Matters , he unpacked the potential effect AI technologies may have on the geopolitical dynamics among nations .
- Christopher Robertson, author of Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done about It , explained on the podcast The Week in Health Law why why cost exposure is a terrible rationing mechanism for health care .
- On the Planet Money (NPR) series The Indicator , Capitalism, Alone author Branko Milanovic discussed two factors that contribute to increasing global inequality: the increasing prevalence of “timecard capitalists”—individuals who earn both high capital income and high labor income ; and “assortative mating,” the trend in which people with the same socioeconomic backgrounds increasingly marry each other .
- Capital and Ideology author Thomas Piketty debated how unfair societies can learn from their mistakes—and whether inequality is ever in the public interest —on the Economist podcast The Economist Asks .
- Juan Du, author of The Shenzhen Experiment , spoke at length with the South China Morning Post as she toured the “instant city.”
- Protocol published “How the NSA Hacked International Mobile Carriers,” excerpted from Ben Buchanan’s The Hacker and the State .
- Harvard Magazine featured an in-depth profile of Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War .
- Capital and Ideology author Thomas Piketty warned New Statesman of “another economic crash.”
- At Zócalo Public Square , Unbelievers author Alec Ryrie detailed how European atheism existed in practice before it existed in theory .
- At Foreign Affairs , Mira Rapp-Hooper, author of the forthcoming Shields of the Republic , advised on how best to save America’s decaying alliances .
- Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War , spoke with WNUR (Chicago)’s This Is Hell! about the fundamentally international nature of slavery—and how to understand both the American origin story and American race relations today within the context of that global capitalist model .
- At Rorotoko , City on a Hill author Alex Krieger unpacked the American inclination toward aspirational approaches at community and city-building .
- At STAT , Christopher Robertson, author of Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done about It , analyzed whether the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate soundbite “no more copays, no more deductibles” really represents radical health care reform .
- At Politico , Revolutionary Constitutions author Bruce Ackerman roundly critiqued Trump impeachment defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s use of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial as an relevant example .
- Martha Nussbaum spoke with The Nation about The Cosmopolitan Tradition —and whether the so-called “retreat of liberalism” is an academic fad .
- Supriya Gandhi, author of The Emperor Who Never Was , discussed Mughal prince and philosopher Dara Shukoh with The Wire .
- On WBUR’s Radio Boston , Brandon Terry, coeditor of To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. , discussed what the “righteousness” Dr. King taught and practiced means to today’s battles against injustice .
- At the Atlantic , India’s Founding Moment author Madhav Khosla compared Indians’ current struggle with questions of ethnic, religious, and ultimately, national identity , with their experience before and during Partition.
- Beyond Test Scores author Jack Schneider argued in the Denver Post that rather than relying on published scores or simplistic color coding when choosing schools, parents would do well to consider meatier questions about teacher engagement and whether they are supported by school administration .
- Christopher Robertson, author of Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done about It , argued at CNN Opinion that political wrangling over healthcare policy has focused too heavily on who gets covered and not enough on the quality of coverage —at prices affordable enough that those who are “covered” can actually seek the care they need.
- On KPFA’s Against the Grain , Accounting for Slavery author Caitlin Rosenthal discussed slavery’s place within the development of American capitalism .
- An excerpt from James Hankins’s Virtue Politics , on Machiavelli’s “war on virtue,” was published at Spectator USA ; on the Quillette podcast, Hankins explained what Renaissance humanists can teach today’s politicians about statecraft .
- At Smithsonian , Ai Hisano, author of Visualizing Taste: How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat , detailed the history of federal regulations governing, not the nutritive value or safety, but the appearance of foods .
- Animal City author Andrew Robichaud’s research was central to Maclean’s feature on the nineteenth-century moral revolution in North America in the conception of humane behavior towards animals .
- On Texas Public Radio’s The Source , Testosterone coauthor Rebecca Jordan-Young unpacked how myths about the hormone’s relationship to masculinity have shaped American culture .
- Branko Milanovic, author of Capitalism, Alone , discussed which varieties of capitalism will prevail over time on The American Interest ’s podcast.
- A Washington Post Magazine feature on the resurgence of stoicism among Silicon Valley techbros was informed by Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men .
- Tom Siegfried, author of The Number of the Heavens , wrote at Knowable about the new tests that could verify Einstein’s general theory of relativity—or prove it to be significantly flawed .
- At Time , India’s Founding Moment author Madhav Khosla explained the political unrest in India following the promulgation by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of a new citizenship law that treats Muslims differently from those of other religions .
- Nautilus published an excerpt from John Johnson Jr.’s Zwicky on the (not so humble) astrophysicist’s discovery of supernovas .
- At the Atlantic , Mary Sarah Bilder, author of Madison’s Hand , took a close look at James Madison’s use of “high crimes and misdemeanors” versus “maladministration” in the constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment .
- On WFHB (Bloomington, IN)’s The Interchange , Juliana Spahr, author of Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment , considered the revolutionary capacity of literature .
- David Perlmutter, author of Promotion and Tenure Confidential , explained in the Chronicle of Higher Education why it’s hard to operate “outside the box” in academe .
- In the Boston Globe , City on a Hill author Alex Krieger described the city’s new “gilded age.”
- At the Washington Post , The Rise of the Latino Vote author Benjamin Francis-Fallon detailed the origins of the concept of a singular “Latino vote” in the 1960 “Viva Kennedy!” campaign .
- Françoise Baylis, author of Altered Inheritance , spoke with CBC Radio’s Information Morning about Chinese twins Lulu and Nana, the first humans to be born with the help of CRISPR technology .
- The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon explained to Marketplace ’s David Brancaccio how increases in lobbying against competition and poor regulatory oversight led to higher prices for consumer goods and utilities in the United States compared to Europe .
- On Texas Public Radio’s The Source , Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , discussed the forces that propelled Big Tobacco to its height of popularity and the role of citizen activism in its eventual downfall .
- Branko Milanovic discussed Capitalism, Alone on the Slate podcast The Gist .
- At Scientific American , Tom Siegfried, author of The Number of the Heavens , introduced the multiverse—a concept with a longer history than one might think .
- Talk Radio’s America author Brian Rosenwald recounted on WGBH/PRI’s Innovation Hub how conservative talk saved AM radio, influenced American politics, and changed our political reality .
- At the Atlantic , historians David W. Blight ( Race and Reunion ; American Oracle ), W. Fitzhugh Brundage ( The Southern Past ; Civilizing Torture ), and Kevin M. Levin ( Searching for Black Confederates ), criticized the University of North Carolina’s recent decision to pay the white nationalist group Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to relocate and house the statue “Silent Sam.”
- At the Guardian , Katrina Karkazis, coauthor of Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography , explained the science behind why testosterone levels cannot be used to assign people to a male or female identity .
- At Foreign Affairs , Capitalism, Alone author Branko Milanovic compared the two types of capitalism—“liberal meritocratic” (exemplified by the United States, Western European nations, Japan, and a few others) and “state-led, political” (exemplified by China) —that jostle for world domination.
- At Aeon , Author Unknown author Tom Geue considered un-authored Roman literature and the transcendence of mere individuality .
- Joshua Bennett, author of Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man , spoke with the BBC World Service program The Compass about the role of poetry in bringing humans and non-human animals closer together .
- On the Fox Business program Mornings with Maria , The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon compared European with American business practices .
- As America’s 2020 general election approaches, MarketWatch spoke with The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon about increased calls for antitrust action .
- Rorotoko interviewed David Courtwright about The Age of Addiction .
- On the Lapham’s Quarterly podcast The World in Time , Eugene McCarraher, author of The Enchantments of Mammon , discussed the history of capitalism as a tale of predation .
- In the New York Times , William Sturkey, author of Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White , criticized the University of North Carolina’s recent $2.5 million payment to a neo-Confederate organization for the acquisition and housing of the Confederate statue “Silent Sam.”
- The Tablet published an excerpt from Eric Nelson’s The Theology of Liberalism , on John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice as “Jewish heresy.”
- In the New York Times , Industry of Anonymity author Jonathan Lusthaus reminded holiday shoppers that Eastern Europe hosts the “Silicon Valley of cybercrime” —and its entrepreneurs are watching.
- Globalists author Quinn Slobodian wrote at The Nation about “after-globalization” twenty years after protests disrupted the WTO meeting in Seattle .
- Thomas Philippon, author of The Great Reversal , explained on the FOX Business program WSJ at Large how America’s once highly competitive free market became dominated by large companies whose behavior disadvantages individual consumers .
- Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , described to Marketplace ’s David Brancaccio how, during an era when American companies sought to increase their international competitiveness, grassroots nonsmokers’ rights groups forced consideration of anti-smoking regulation in the workplace .
- Popular Science published an excerpt from Antony Adler’s Neptune’s Laboratory on the mid-twentieth-century effort to design and build “an undersea utopia” —even as, far above, astronauts were taking their first steps on the moon.
- Following a new FBI report showing a marked increase in hate crimes against Latinos, The Injustice Never Leaves You author Monica Muñoz Martinez unearthed the nation’s “forgotten” history of anti-Latino violence on WBUR (Boston, MA)’s Here & Now .
- On the Yahoo!Finance program On the Move , Unbound author Heather Boushey discussed why economic inequality in the United States is at its highest level in 50 years .
- On the Yahoo!Finance program On the Move , The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon critiqued the idea that America’s ostensibly “free” markets are in fact functioning for the benefit of consumers and workers .
- Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , described to the Columbus Dispatch how vaping companies’ marketing efforts have closely followed those of Big Tobacco ; she also discussed the hazy financial future of the vaping industry on CheddarTV .
- Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew spoke with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday about leaked emails in which Trump administration lackey Stephen Miller seemingly encouraged far-right website Breitbart to promote white supremacist ideas .
- A Washington Post story about a conservative talk show host in Colorado who claims he was fired after expressing disapproval of Donald Trump was informed by discussion with Brian Rosenwald, author of Talk Radio’s America .
- At #AsiaNow , the blog of the Association for Asian Studies, Elisabeth Köll, author of Railroads and the Transformation of China , discussed the country’s extensive high-speed rail network—which is faster, cheaper, and more futuristic than anything offered by the creaky Amtrak system in the United States .
- At The Guardian , The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon made the case that the increasingly iron grip of monopolistic corporations now costs American households an estimated $300 per month .
- On the Oxfam podcast From Poverty to Power , Capitalism, Alone author Branko Milanovic talked with London School of Economics Professor and Oxfam strategic adviser Duncan Green about solutions for global inequality .
- Sarah Seo, author of Policing the Open Road , wrote in the New York Review of Books about what “car culture” can teach us about newer policing—and surveillance—technologies .
- Rajiv Sethi, coauthor of Shadows of Doubt , spoke with the Santa Fe Institute podcast Complexity about the biases in attention and cognition that lead to unfair outcomes on the streets (and online) —and strategies that show promise in offsetting these outcomes.
- On Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time , What Remains author Sarah Wagner described how the determination of military families—and new technologies—have kept alive the effort to bring home the remains of Vietnam-era soldiers .
- On WAMU’s 1A , Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis, coauthors of Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography , discussed how an accurate scientific understanding of the hormone can affect efforts to reshape the Western definition of masculinity ; Literary Hub published an excerpt from the book on the tenuous link between the hormone and violent behavior .
- The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon explained to the Verge podcast The Vergecast how, in certain markets like healthcare, technology, and air travel, consolidation has resulted in much higher prices for Americans over time .
- Françoise Baylis, author of Altered Inheritance , spoke with Crux about the moral questions (from a Catholic perspective) surrounding the use and further development of CRISPR technology .
- In the New York Times , Gravity’s Century author Ron Cowen described how Albert Einstein’s 1919 discovery of the general theory of relativity made him the first “science superstar.”
- An excerpt from Sarah Wagner’s What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War was published at Lapham’s Quarterly .
- Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid coauthors Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt wrote at BLARB , the blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books , about the limitations—cultural, psychological, neurological—of recent tech company innovations in artificial emotional intelligence .
- Donna Zuckerberg, author of Not All Dead White Men , spoke with Vox about why the alt-right loves ancient Rome .
- At the New York Daily News , City on a Hill author Alex Krieger unpacked the idea of the “American Dream” —on the occasion of the grand opening, in the New Jersey Meadowlands, of a “destination” shopping mall of the same name.
- Capitalism, Alone author Branko Milanovic spoke with WBUR (Boston, MA)’s Here and Now about recent civil unrest across the globe, attributing it in part to a feeling among the poor of being excluded from the political and social life of their countries—and, increasingly, denied a fair shot at those countries’ income growth .
- At STAT , David Courtwright, author of The Age of Addiction , explicated the interaction between biology and economics—limbic capitalism—that supports today’s vaping and prescription opioid industries (and their associated addictions) .
- At BBC News, Not All Dead White Men author Donna Zuckerberg and Antigone Rising author Helen Morales detailed the long history—dating back to the ancient Greeks—of harassment of women by intimidated men .
- John Danaher discussed Automation and Utopia and the prospect of a “world without work” on Newstalk Ireland’s Futureproof .
- At the Washington Post , Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid coauthors Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt analyzed smartphone culture’s impact on human psychology .
- Heather Boushey, author of Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do about It , warned in the New York Times that America’s most relied upon measure of economic progress, gross domestic product, fails to measure the reality of inequality —and gives us an increasingly dangerous false sense of security.
- At The Atlantic , The Great Reversal author Thomas Philippon explained that United States only pretends to have free markets —while economic monopoly dings American consumers at every turn.
- Eugene McCarraher, author of The Enchantments of Mammon , argued at Aeon that capitalism trades not in rationality and logic, but instead in a “most beguiling form of enchantment” —and it has remade the moral and ontological universe in its likeness.
- The Paris Review published “The Cult of the Imperfect,” excerpted from Umberto Eco’s On the Shoulders of Giants .
- In the Washington Post , Testosterone coauthors Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis laid to rest five commonly held myths about the controversial hormone ; on the BBC World Service program Newshour [at 45:00], Karkazis argued that sports organizations must rethink their regulations around T , which are based on a faulty understanding of its role in the body.
- Kimberly Clausing, author of Open , made the progressive case against protectionism in Foreign Affairs .
- A Washington Post feature on the newly revamped for-profit education plans of Edison Schools founder Chris Whittle was informed by a discussion with Education and the Commercial Mindset author Sam Abrams.
- Time published an excerpt from Dan Porat’s Bitter Reckoning: Israel Tries Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators .
- A New Yorker feature on the shift from theoretical to “data-driven” economics —and the associated impact on governmental policy—centers the work of Heather Boushey, author of Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do about It .
- On CBC Radio’s The Current , Altered Inheritance author Françoise Baylis clarified the difference between “germline” and “somatic” gene-editing and warned against making heritable changes to human genes .
- Vox interviewed David Courtwright, author of The Age of Addiction , about capitalism’s role in promoting unhealthy behaviors .
- On The Commonweal Podcast , The Rise of the Latino Vote author Benjamin Francis-Fallon debunked the myth that American Latino voters operate as a unified political bloc —rather, they are a variegated coalition with a diverse array of concrete interests.
- On Innovation Hub (WGBH/PRI), Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid coauthors Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt described how Americans’ opinion of solitude worsened, and tolerance for boredom plummeted , as “always-on” capacities increased and jobs became more repetitive.
- In the wake of Atatiana Jefferson’s death at the hands of a police officer in Fort Worth, Texas, just weeks after Amber Guyger was convicted of the murder of Botham Jean in Dallas, Shadows of Doubt coauthor Rajiv Sethi described on WBUR (Boston, MA)’s Here & Now what fuels the use of excessive force by police —and how to proceed when there are not just individual “bad apples” in law enforcement, but “bad orchards.”
- Brian Rosenwald, author of Talk Radio’s America , discussed with CNN’s Michael Smerconish whether Fox News, The Drudge Report , and conservative talk radio may finally turn against Trump .
- Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , explained on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time how government subsidies and regulation changed public conceptions of cigarette smoking ; and PopMatters published an excerpt from the book.
- The GQ cover story “Voices of the New Masculinity” featured a conversation with Testosterone coauthor Katrina Karkazis about the science behind our conception of masculinity.
- At the Washington Post , Sarah Wagner, author of What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War , made the case that Donald Trump’s recent lurid description of grieving military families is another example of American leaders’ frequent invocation of military sacrifice to advance their political agendas (in this case, the withdrawal of U.S.troops from Syria).
- Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew gave Five Books her recommended reading on white supremacy .
- Branko Milanovic, author of Capitalism, Alone , spoke with ProMarket about avoiding plutocracy .
- At The Atlantic , Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , called for regulations around marijuana cultivation, which currently favor well-connected corporate growers, to be rewritten to favor small, independent farmers—and especially farmers of color, as a form of reparations for the scourge in their communities of the War on Drugs .
- Jennifer Rothman, author of The Right of Publicity , warned in the San Francisco Chronicle that a recently signed California bill, ostensibly designed to aid student athletes, fails to protect their rights to use their own names and likenesses—and to bar others from doing so .
- Jiwei Ci, author of Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis , wrote at Foreign Affairs about the implications for the fragile U.S.–China relationship of an increasingly democratic “social state” in China quietly gaining strength under the radar of its authoritarian government .
- Eugene McCarraher, author of The Enchantments of Mammon , spoke with The Nation about myths and rituals of the market, the lost radicalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the rise of neoliberalism .
- On WAMU’s 1A , Ghetto author Daniel Schwartz unknotted the twisty linguistics of the term ghetto and analyzed how it has impacted the communities it’s been used to describe .
- Science News interviewed Tom Siegfried about The Number of the Heavens: A History of the Multiverse and the Quest to Understand the Cosmos .
- On WBUR (Boston, MA)’s Here & Now , The Cigarette author Sarah Milov discussed past efforts by the government to promote American tobacco domestically and around the world —and, in the wake of public health pushback, parallels with today’s debate over vaping.
- Talk Radio’s America author Brian Rosenwald discussed the 24-hour news cycle, the FCC’s late “fairness doctrine” (RIP), and today’s “partisan warriors” on The John Rothmann Show (AM 810 KGO, San Francisco, CA).
- An excerpt from Branko Milanovic’s Capitalism, Alone was published at ProMarket .
- A Texas Monthly cover story on “the battle to rewrite Texas history” featured The Injustice Never Leaves You author Monica Muñoz Martinez’s research into long-ignored incidents of racial violence.
- Thomas Philippon, author of The Great Reversal , explained to CNBC’s The Exchange why American markets are a mess—and getting worse .
- At BBC Science Focus , Zwicky author John Johnson Jr. introduced his subject: “eccentric…genius…and uncontained.”
- On Marketplace , The Cigarette author Sarah Milov described Juul’s response to the vaping scare—replacing its CEO and ending U.S. advertising, among other acts—as “strategically conciliatory” —and reminiscent of past gestures by cigarette manufacturers.
- Daniel Schwartz, author of Ghetto: The History of a Word , wrote at Time about the use of the term to describe heavily segregated urban areas in the United States ; Literary Hub published an excerpt from the book.
- Elizabeth Anderson, author of Value in Ethics and Economics , Danielle Keats Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace , and Emily Wilson, author of The Death of Socrates , have been named as 2019 MacArthur Fellows .
- An excerpt from T. H. Breen’s The Will of the People , “The Slow Build Up to the American Revolution,” was published at Literary Hub .
- At Vice , Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History , compared “the great American vape panic of 2019” to previous public outcry when, after years of litigation, the dangers of cigarettes were finally disclosed .
- On KUOW (Seattle, WA)’s The Record , The Public Option coauthor Ganesh Sitaraman described the role of government in providing Americans with universally accessible, low or no-cost services—and the variety of public options that could become available if only Americans can muster the political will for them .
- At STAT , Altered Inheritance author Françoise Baylis responded to announcements of successful germline gene editing by Chinese and Russian researchers, calling for “slow science,” deep reflection, and international dialogue among scientists about what constitutes the common good .
- Tony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor , spoke with KERA (Dallas–Fort Worth, TX)’s Think about the upper education challenges of students who are “book smart” but who may lack the socioeconomic class background to succeed on campus .
- Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users , discussed with Innovation Hub (WGBH/PRI) the origins of her research in starry-eyed development idealism—and how she pivoted when confronted with the all-too-human preferences of the people she was attempting to uplift .
- At Fortune , How the Other Half Banks author Mehrsa Baradaran considered the implications for the underbanked of Amazon’s new “Paycode” program, which will allow for cash transactions via a partnership with Western Union .
- Literary Hub published an excerpt from Françoise Baylis’s Altered Inheritance , “Will It Ever Be Ethical for Athletes to Edit Their Genes?”
- Global Competition Review interviewed Chris Sagers about United States v. Apple: Competition in America .
- Daniel Schwartz, author of Ghetto: The History of a Word , spoke with the Boston Globe about the “accumulated definitions” of ghetto , and how to unpack the use of the term today.
- On NPR’s All Things Considered , The Privileged Poor Tony Jack decried the minimally harsh sentencing of actress Felicity Huffman in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal .
- On the Yahoo! News podcast The Long Game , Brian Rosenwald, author of Talk Radio’s America , discussed how talk radio and cable news hosts have become the equivalent of party leaders on both the left and right —but without any of the accountability party leadership has traditionally faced.
- The Revolution That Wasn’t author Jen Schradie explained the “activism gap” in social media on the podcast The Politics Guys .
- On WBUR (Boston, MA)’s On Point , Branko Milanovic, author of Capitalism, Alone , discussed how to break the cycles of greed and inequality .
- In the New York Times Magazine ’s 2019 Education Issue, The Privileged Poor author Tony Jack recounted the the hardships he faced as a low-income college student —and how to change the inequitable systems still facing students today.
- Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users , spoke with the podcast Creative Next about the current and future uses of AI and digital tech in diverse places such as India, China, Africa, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia .
- African Catholic author Elizabeth Foster wrote at the Washington Post blog Made by History about the growing trend across the African continent toward decolonizing Catholicism .
- Nautilus published an excerpt from Lukas Rieppel’s Assembling the Dinosaur that traces the recent history of dinosaurs alongside that of American capitalism .
- On the Slate podcast The Gist , Talk Radio’s America author Brian Rosenwald considered Rush Limbaugh’s influence on the art of “hijacking political discourse.”
- Kate Eichhorn discussed The End of Forgetting on KQED (San Francisco, CA)’s Forum .
- At the Washington Post , Not All Dead White Men author Donna Zuckerberg critiqued the “debate me” culture popularized by Socrates and now prevalent on social media , arguing that in many cases, “the only winning move is not to play.”
- On the podcast EdSurge on Air , How We Teach Science author John Rudolph explained the downsides of the current approach to teaching the scientific method .
- Daniel Vaca, author of the forthcoming Evangelicals Incorporated , spoke with Slate about the decline of Christian bookstores .
- Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew explained to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria how disparate groups of neo-Nazis, skinheads, and Klansmen came together to form the today’s White Power Movement .
- Caitlin Rosenthal’s Accounting for Slavery heavily informed a New York Times Magazine interactive feature exploring the brutality of American capitalism via a hard look at the economy and culture of plantations .
- Literary Hub published an excerpt from Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis’s Fraud in the Lab , on the “Theranos effect”—when spectacular discoveries turn out to be too good to be true .
- Brian Rosenwald, author of Talk Radio’s America , spoke with WAMU’s 1A about the radio roots that shaped today’s GOP .
- Jezebel interviewed Emily Remus about A Shoppers’ Paradise and the early-twentieth-century origins of the “women like shopping” stereotype .
- A CNN.com report on past border violence victims’ descendants’ reactions to the El Paso shooting featured analysis from The Injustice Never Leaves You author Monica Muñoz Martinez.
- On Utah Public Radio’s UnDisciplined , Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid coauthors Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt considered which human emotions have been changed the most by recent developments in technology [at 09:50].
- Tony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor , spoke with the Boston Globe about the increasingly recognized phenomenon of financially disadvantaged college students skipping meals .
- The Wall Street Journal spoke with Gropius author Fiona MaCarthy on the occasion of the opening of the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, Germany .
- At The Brains Blog , Why Free Will Is Real author Christian List made the naturalistic case for free will .
- An excerpt from Edward Baring’s Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy was published in Church Life Journal .
- On the Guardian technology podcast Chips with Everything , The End of Forgetting author Kate Eichhorn described the dangers facing young people who may find it difficult to distance themselves from their pasts —even long into the future.
- Ganesh Sitaraman and Anne Alstott discussed The Public Option with The American Prospect and WGBH (Boston, MA)’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan .
- Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew explained the ideology behind the El Paso shooting on PBS NewsHour .
- Monica Muñoz Martinez, author of The Injustice Never Leaves You , analyzed El Paso in the context of past anti-Mexican and anti-Chicano violence on MSNBC’s The Beat and WBUR (Boston, MA)’s On Point .
- Elizabeth Foster, author of African Catholic , discussed with the Washington Post blog Monkey Cage how the Catholic Church responded to the decolonization of the continent .
- The Bloggers Karamazov interviewed Jonathan Paine about Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola .
- In the New York Times , Bring the War Home author Kathleen Belew placed the recent mass shooting in El Paso, TX, squarely within the rising spate of terrorist acts resulting from white nationalism .
- On WNYC’s The Takeaway , Monica Muñoz Martinez, author of The Injustice Never Leaves You , responded to the El Paso shooting in the context of America’s dark—and under-recognized—history of anti-Mexican violence .
- Harvard University Press mourns the recent passing of Toni Morrison , author of The Origin of Others and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination among other critically acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction; and of educator Vivian Gussin Paley , whose work in early childhood development informed and elevated a generation of classroom teaching.
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October 31 st marks John Keats’s birthday, and it is also the publication date of Susan J. Wolfson’s new book A Greeting of the Spirit: Selected Poetry of John Keats with Commentaries . We’d like to honor both by sharing Keats’s poem, “To Autumn” …
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Celebrating University Press Week
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The End of the English Major
By Nathan Heller
The crisis, when it came, arrived so quickly that its scale was hard to recognize at first. From 2012 to the start of the pandemic, the number of English majors on campus at Arizona State University fell from nine hundred and fifty-three to five hundred and seventy-eight. Records indicate that the number of graduated language and literature majors decreased by roughly half, as did the number of history majors. Women’s studies lost eighty per cent. “It’s hard for students like me, who are pursuing an English major, to find joy in what they’re doing,” Meg Macias, a junior, said one afternoon as the edges of the sky over the campus went soft. It was late autumn, and the sunsets came in like flame on thin paper on the way to dusk. “They always know there’s someone who wishes that they were doing something else.”
A.S.U., which is centered in Tempe and has more than eighty thousand students on campus, is today regarded as a beacon for the democratic promises of public higher education. Its undergraduate admission rate is eighty-eight per cent. Nearly half its undergraduates are from minority backgrounds, and a third are the first in their families to go to college. The in-state tuition averages just four thousand dollars, yet A.S.U. has a better faculty-to-student ratio on site than U.C. Berkeley and spends more on faculty research than Princeton. For students interested in English literature, it can seem a lucky place to land. The university’s tenure-track English faculty is seventy-one strong—including eleven Shakespeare scholars, most of them of color. In 2021, A.S.U. English professors won two Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other English department in America did.
On campus, I met many students who might have been moved by these virtues but felt pulled toward other pursuits. Luiza Monti, a senior, had come to college as a well-rounded graduate of a charter school in Phoenix. She had fallen in love with Italy during a summer exchange and fantasized about Italian language and literature, but was studying business—specifically, an interdisciplinary major called Business (Language and Culture), which incorporated Italian coursework. “It’s a safeguard thing,” Monti, who wore earrings from a jewelry business founded by her mother, a Brazilian immigrant, told me. “There’s an emphasis on who is going to hire you.”
Justin Kovach, another senior, loved to write and always had. He’d blown through the thousand-odd pages of “Don Quixote” on his own (“I thought, This is a really funny story”) and looked for more big books to keep the feeling going. “I like the long, hard classics with the fancy language,” he said. Still, he wasn’t majoring in English, or any kind of literature. In college—he had started at the University of Pittsburgh—he’d moved among computer science, mathematics, and astrophysics, none of which brought him any sense of fulfillment. “Most of the time I would spend avoiding doing work,” he confessed. But he never doubted that a field in STEM —a common acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—was the best path for him. He settled on a degree in data science.
Kovach will graduate with some thirty thousand dollars in debt, a burden that influenced his choice of a degree. For decades now, the cost of education has increased over all ahead of inflation. One theory has been that this pressure, plus the growing precariousness of the middle class, has played a role in driving students like him toward hard-skill majors. (English majors, on average, carry less debt than students in other fields, but they take longer to pay it down.)
For the decline at A.S.U. is not anomalous. According to Robert Townsend, the co-director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators project, which collects data uniformly but not always identically to internal enrollment figures, from 2012 to 2020 the number of graduated humanities majors at Ohio State’s main campus fell by forty-six per cent. Tufts lost nearly fifty per cent of its humanities majors, and Boston University lost forty-two. Notre Dame ended up with half as many as it started with, while SUNY Albany lost almost three-quarters. Vassar and Bates—standard-bearing liberal-arts colleges—saw their numbers of humanities majors fall by nearly half. In 2018, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point briefly considered eliminating thirteen majors, including English, history, and philosophy, for want of pupils.
During the past decade, the study of English and history at the collegiate level has fallen by a full third. Humanities enrollment in the United States has declined over all by seventeen per cent, Townsend found. What’s going on? The trend mirrors a global one; four-fifths of countries in the Organization for Economic Coöperation reported falling humanities enrollments in the past decade. But that brings little comfort to American scholars, who have begun to wonder what it might mean to graduate a college generation with less education in the human past than any that has come before.
If you take a moment to conjure the university in your mind, you will probably arrive at one of two visions. Perhaps you see the liberal-arts idyll, removed from the pressures of the broader world and filled with tweedy creatures reading on quadrangle lawns. This is the redoubt of the idealized figure of the English major, sensitive and sweatered, moving from “Pale Fire” to “The Fire Next Time” and scaling the heights of “Ulysses” for the view. The goal of such an education isn’t direct career training but cultivation of the mind—the belief that Lionel Trilling caricatured as “certain good things happen if we read literature.” This model describes one of those pursuits, like acupuncture or psychoanalysis, which seem to produce salutary effects through mechanisms that we have tried but basically failed to explain.
Or perhaps you think of the university as the research colony, filled with laboratories and conferences and peer-reviewed papers written for audiences of specialists. This is a place that thumps with the energy of a thousand gophers turning over knowledge. It’s the small-bore university of campus comedy—of “Lucky Jim” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—but also the quarry of deconstruction, quantum electrodynamics, and value theory. It produces new knowledge and ways of understanding that wouldn’t have an opportunity to emerge anywhere else.
In 1963, Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California system, gave a series of lectures subsequently collected in a famous book, “The Uses of the University.” He argued that both of these paradigms—the former largely inspired by British schools like Oxford and Cambridge, the latter largely inspired by the great German universities of the nineteenth century—had no actual equivalent in the U.S. Instead, he said, the Americans created the “multiversity”: a kind of hodgepodge of both types and more. The multiversity incorporates the tradition of land-grant universities, established with an eye to industrial-age skill sets. And it provides something for everyone. There is pre-professional training of all sorts—law schools, business schools, medical schools, agricultural schools—but also the old liberal-arts quadrangle. “The university is so many things to so many different people that it must, of necessity, be partially at war with itself,” Kerr wrote.
The multiversity does have a long project, though, and that is the project of opening itself to the world. In the nineteen-thirties, Harvard began making motions in the direction of socioeconomic meritocracy, significantly increasing scholarships for bright students. In 1944, the G.I. Bill was signed, bearing more than two million veterans into colleges and universities, the quickest jump in enrollment (male enrollment, anyway) on record. Between 1940 and 1970, the percentage of the American public that received at least four years of university education nearly tripled, sharpening the university’s democratic imperative. The student ferment of these years pressed for curricular reform, with the goal of bringing the university into greater alignment with undergraduates’ interests. Higher education was ever less a world apart and more a world in which many people spent some time.
For decades, the average proportion of humanities students in every class hovered around fifteen per cent nationally, following the American economy up in boom times and down in bearish periods. (If you major in a field like business for the purpose of getting rich, it doesn’t follow—but can be mistaken to—that majoring in English will make you poor.) Enrollment numbers of the past decade defy these trends, however. When the economy has looked up, humanities enrollments have continued falling. When the markets have wobbled, enrollments have tumbled even more. Today, the roller coaster is in free fall. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the percentage of college degrees awarded in health sciences, medical sciences, natural sciences, and engineering has shot up. At Columbia University—one of a diminishing number of schools with a humanities-heavy core requirement—English majors fell from ten per cent to five per cent of graduates between 2002 and 2020, while the ranks of computer-science majors strengthened.
“Until about four years ago, I thought it was a reversible situation—that those who profess the humanities hadn’t been good enough at selling them to students,” James Shapiro, an English professor at Columbia, told me in his office one day. He had worried his graying blond hair to a choppy peak. Photographs of Shakespeare productions he has worked on were perched among the books on his shelves, which were close-packed. “I no longer believe that, for two reasons.”
One reason was the way of the world. Shapiro picked up an abused-looking iPhone from his desk. “You’re talking to someone who has only owned a smartphone for a year—I resisted,” he said. Then he saw that it was futile. “Technology in the last twenty years has changed all of us,” he went on. “How has it changed me? I probably read five novels a month until the two-thousands. If I read one a month now, it’s a lot. That’s not because I’ve lost interest in fiction. It’s because I’m reading a hundred Web sites. I’m listening to podcasts.” He waggled the iPhone disdainfully. “Go to a play now, and watch the flashing screens an hour in, as people who like to think of themselves as cultured cannot! Stop! Themselves!” Assigning “Middlemarch” in that climate was like trying to land a 747 on a small rural airstrip.
The other reason was money. Shapiro put down the phone and glowered at it. “You get what you pay for!” he said, and grabbed a departmental memo that lay on his desk. With a blunt pencil, he scribbled on the back a graph with two axes and an upside-down parabola. “I’m talking about the big fire hose .”
As I watched, he labelled the start of the graph “1958”—the year after the Soviets launched Sputnik, when the National Defense Education Act appropriated more than a billion dollars for education.
“We’re not talking about élite universities—we’re talking about money flowing into fifty states, all the way down. That was the beginning of the glory days of the humanities,” he continued. Near the plummeting end of the parabola, he scribbled “2007,” the beginning of the economic crisis. “That funding goes down,” he explained. “The financial support for the humanities is gone on a national level, on a state level, at the university level.”
Shapiro smoothed out his graph, regarded it for a moment, and ran the tip of his pencil back and forth across the curve.
“This is also the decline-of-democracy chart,” he said. He looked up and met my gaze. “You can overlay it on the money chart like a kind of palimpsest—it’s the same.”
At the high point of autumn—midterm season—I travelled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to spend time among the golden kids of Harvard. Last year, the college reportedly had a 3.19-per-cent admission rate. Those who make it through the needle’s eye are able to evade a lot of the forces thought to drag humanities enrollments down. Harvard’s financial-aid packages are ostensibly doled out to the full extent needed, and built without loans, giving students who receive aid the chance to graduate debt-free. Basic employability is assured by the diploma: even a Harvard graduate who majors in somersaults will be able to find some kind of job to pay the bills. In theory, this should be a school where the range of possibilities for college remains intact.
In 2022, though, a survey found that only seven per cent of Harvard freshmen planned to major in the humanities, down from twenty per cent in 2012, and nearly thirty per cent during the nineteen-seventies. From fifteen years ago to the start of the pandemic, the number of Harvard English majors reportedly declined by about three-quarters—in 2020, there were fewer than sixty at a college of more than seven thousand—and philosophy and foreign literatures also sustained losses. (For bureaucratic reasons, Harvard doesn’t count history as a humanity, but the trend holds.) “We feel we’re on the Titanic,” a senior professor in the English department told me.
Students lacked a strong sense of the department’s vaunted standing. “I would never say this to any of my English- or my film-major friends, but I kind of thought that those majors were a joke ,” Isabel Mehta, a junior, told me. “I thought, I’m a writer, but I’ll never be an English major.” Instead, she’d pursued social studies—a philosophy, politics, and economics track whose popularity has exploded in recent years. (Policy, students explained, was thought to effect urgent change.) But the conversations bored her (students said “the same three things,” she reported, “and I didn’t want to be around all these classmates railing on capitalism all day”), so she landed uneasily in English after all. “I have a warped sense of identity, where I’m studying something really far removed from what a lot of people here view as central, but I’m not removed from these cultural forces,” she told me.
English professors find the turn particularly baffling now: a moment when, by most appearances, the appetite for public contemplation of language, identity, historiography, and other longtime concerns of the seminar table is at a peak.
“Young people are very, very concerned about the ethics of representation, of cultural interaction—all these kinds of things that, actually, we think about a lot!” Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education and an English professor, told me last fall. She was one of several teachers who described an orientation toward the present, to the extent that many students lost their bearings in the past. “The last time I taught ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ I discovered that my students were really struggling to understand the sentences as sentences—like, having trouble identifying the subject and the verb,” she said. “Their capacities are different, and the nineteenth century is a long time ago.”
Tara K. Menon, a junior professor who joined the English faculty in 2021, linked the shift to students arriving at college with a sense that the unenlightened past had nothing left to teach. At Harvard, as elsewhere, courses that can be seen to approach an idea of canon, such as Humanities 10, an intensive, application-only survey, have been the focus of student concerns about too few Black artists in syllabi, or Eurocentric biases.
“There’s a real misunderstanding that you can come in and say, ‘I want to read post-colonial texts—that’s the thing I want to study—and I have no interest in studying the work of dead white men,’ ” Menon said. “My answer, in the big first lecture that I give, is, If you want to understand Arundhati Roy, or Salman Rushdie, or Zadie Smith, you have to read Dickens. Because one of the tragedies of the British Empire”—she smiled—“is that all those writers read all those books.”
For families recently arrived in the U.S., however, literary study is not always the most urgent priority. One evening, I met a student who graduated from Harvard in 2021 with a degree in molecular and cellular biology and a minor in linguistics. Like Justin Kovach, she described herself as an avid student of literature who never considered studying it in depth.
“My parents, who were low-income and immigrants, instilled in me the very great importance of finding a concentration that would get me a job—‘You don’t go to Harvard for basket weaving’ was one of the things they would say,” she told me. She was a member of the first generation in her family to attend college—the sort of student that élite schools are at pains to enroll. “So, when I came, I took a course that was, like, the hardest course you could take your freshman year. It integrated computer science, physics, math, chemistry, and biology. That course fulfilled a lot of the requirements to be able to do molecular and cellular biology, so I finished that, for my parents. I can get a job. I’m educated .”
She paused, then added, “I took courses in Chinese film and literature. I took classes in the science of cooking. My issue as a first-gen student is I always view humanities as a passion project. You have to be affluent in order to be able to take that on and state, ‘Oh, I can pursue this, because I have the money to do whatever I want.’ ” Nice work if you can get it. “I view the humanities as very hobby-based,” she said.
One misty afternoon, a Harvard junior named Henry Haimo took me for a walk down Dunster Street, and on past Harvard’s red-brick upperclass dorms. Haimo had assumed the style of an ageless Ivy Leaguer: glasses, a button-down, and an annihilated pair of chinos. He decided to major in history after flirting with philosophy. “There’s an incredible emphasis on ‘ethics’ in every field of study now,” he explained: A.I. plus ethics, biology plus ethics. “And effective altruism”—a practice that calls for acquiring wealth and disseminating it according to principles of optimization and efficiency—“is a huge trend on campus, seeping into everything. It has probably contributed to a good number of concentrators and secondaries in the philosophy department.”
I asked Haimo whether there seemed to be a dominant vernacular at Harvard. (When I was a student there, people talked a lot about things being “reified.”) Haimo told me that there was: the language of statistics. One of the leading courses at Harvard now is introductory statistics, enrolling some seven hundred students a semester, up from ninety in 2005. “Even if I’m in the humanities, and giving my impression of something, somebody might point out to me, ‘Well, who was your sample? How are you gathering your data?’ ” he said. “I mean, statistics is everywhere. It’s part of any good critical analysis of things.”
It struck me that I knew at once what Haimo meant: on social media, and in the press that sends data visualizations skittering across it, statistics is now everywhere, our language for exchanging knowledge. Today, a quantitative idea of rigor underlies even a lot of arguments about the humanities’ special value. Last school year, Spencer Glassman, a history major, argued in a column for the student paper that Harvard’s humanities “need to be more rigorous,” because they set no standards comparable to the “tangible things that any student who completes Stat 110 or Physics 16 must know.” He told me, “One could easily walk away with an A or A-minus and not have learned anything. All the STEM concentrators have this attitude that humanities are a joke.”
Another of my student correspondents sent me a viral TikTok post in which a fit young woman wearing short shorts sprinkler-danced around her dorm room while the song “Twerkulator” played and STEM -tastic slogans flashed across the screen. “Do I like studying science or does it just fuel my god complex?” one read. “Am I smart or was I just at a high reading level in elementary school?” Equivalent humanities TikToks had a different energy. “I want to read philosophy while listening to classical music with my glasses on my head,” one Harvard TikTok-er for the humanistic cause enthused.
Haimo and I turned back toward Harvard Square. “I think the problem for the humanities is you can feel like you’re not really going anywhere, and that’s very scary,” he said. “You write one essay better than the other from one semester to the next. That’s not the same as, you know, being able to solve this economics problem, or code this thing, or do policy analysis.” This has always been true, but students now recognized less of the long-term value of writing better or thinking more deeply than they previously had. Last summer, Haimo worked at the HistoryMakers, an organization building an archive of African American oral history. He said, “When I was applying, I kept thinking, What qualifies me for this job? Sure, I can research, I can write things.” He leaned forward to check for passing traffic. “But those skills are very difficult to demonstrate, and it’s frankly not what the world at large seems in demand of.”
The assistant professor Brandi Adams’s English 206: Introduction to Literary Studies met in one of A.S.U.’s biology buildings. “It looks like a closet door,” she told me when giving directions to the classroom. When I slipped in one morning, Adams—salt-and-pepper hair worn in a high bun, glasses with translucent frames gradually drifting down her nose—was surveying her students about the course syllabus.
“We read ‘Beowulf.’ We read ‘Tears of the Trufflepig,’ by Fernando Flores. We read ‘The Roman Actor,’ by Philip Massinger. We read sonnets by Shakespeare, Thomas Wyatt, Terrance Hayes, and Billy Collins,” she said.
“We read ‘Persuasion,’ we read ‘Passing,’ we read Victoria Chang’s banger poems ‘Mr. Darcy’ and ‘Edward Hopper’s Office at Night,’ and we read ‘Uses of Literature,’ by Rita Felski. We also watched the ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Passing’ Netflix adaptations.” She looked at the group: nine students in the room, two remote, appearing on an A.V. system. “It has given me the opportunity to think about what we did and didn’t like. I think I might remove ‘Persuasion.’ What do you think? Keep it or ditch it?”
“I say ditch,” a student said.
“Should I substitute another Jane Austen novel?” Adams asked.
“I liked ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ” a student offered.
“So everyone’s just, like, You picked the wrong one?” Adams asked. She shrugged. “ ‘Persuasion’ is gone.”
Her approach reflects a wider effort at A.S.U. to meet students in their interests. “Instead of a teacher telling you why it might be relevant, but there doesn’t seem to be any connection to your lived experience, I think it’s important to have every model of learning available to every student,” Jeffrey Cohen, a butter-voiced, bearded man who has been the dean of the humanities at A.S.U. since 2018, told me. On taking the position, he hired a marketing firm, Fervor, to sell the humanities better. It ran a market survey of eight hundred and twenty-six students.
“It was eye-opening to see their responses,” Cohen said. “In general, they loved the humanities and rated them higher than their other courses. However, they were unclear on what the humanities were—two hundred and twenty-two thought that biology was a humanity.”
The students also had no idea which careers humanities study led to, so Cohen decided to teach a course called Making a Career with a Humanities Major. “One of the things the students do is choose a famous humanities major and write about that person,” he said. “Many students are first-generation and bringing the weight of their family tradition with them to the classroom. If they know that someone like John Legend studied literature and made a really great career, they’re, like, ‘O.K.!’ ” His office keeps a growing list of famous people and pushes it, by e-mail, during the period when students sign up for their courses.
In a quantitative society for which optimization—getting the most output from your input—has become a self-evident good, universities prize actions that shift numbers, and pre-professionalism lends itself to traceable change. In 2019, two deans at Emory, Michael A. Elliott and Douglas A. Hicks, received a $1.25-million grant from the Mellon Foundation to create what they called the Humanities Pathways program, focussed on career preparedness. (“Faculty learn to integrate into their syllabi elements to make students conscious that what they’re learning will help them with what potential employers are looking for,” Peter Höyng, a German-studies professor who co-directs the program, told me.) It arranges Zoom seminars with alumni to help show the way. Almost immediately, the program’s co-creators were plucked up into bigger roles: last year, Elliott became the president of Amherst College, and Hicks is now the president of Davidson.
“When I was a graduate student, in the nineties, the New York Times ran a series of magazine stories about major literary theorists, because they were seen as being central,” Elliott told me from his new office. “Now they would be about people working in artificial intelligence or natural-language processing.” Students have noticed the change of focus. “They like being part of vibrant debate and discussion—it’s one reason we continue to see strong enrollments around Black studies,” Elliott said.
At A.S.U., the English department has been wondering whether even to keep calling itself the English department. “More and more students come to the discipline not necessarily to take courses in literature,” Devoney Looser, a professor and an Austen scholar, told me. They’re curious about creative writing, or media studies, or they follow other beacons. A few hundred yards from the department’s building, which has only two classrooms of its own, looms the business complex—two wings with terrazzo floors, sky bridges, fountains, and wall placards that say things such as “ Vision: We transform the world ”—and comparisons are hard to avoid. “ ‘Branding’ makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and English professors are not typically a group that embraces the marketplace,” Looser said. “But this is a moment where we might be in a position to reimagine ourselves.”
Some humanities departments at A.S.U. have gathered into schools of loose affiliation, following a fashion for “unbundling,” or breaking departmental barriers to let students mold study to their needs. “The idealistic part is: Can we reach people who might otherwise not get any higher education? The vulgar part is: Can we monetize the bits and pieces?” Catherine O’Donnell, a history professor, said. “Everyone is going to be hoisted on this petard, because, as we instrumentalize higher education, students question the whole bundling of a B.A.: Is a college education ‘worth’ it? Is a humanities degree ‘worth’ it? The humanities are going to be the little bird on the hippo”—an afterthought trying to balance on other educational goals.
For many students, the humanities already are the little bird. Tiffany Harmanian, a senior at A.S.U., is premed, with a neuroscience major (“I come from a family of doctors—I’m Middle Eastern!” she told me), but minors in English and founded a student organization called the Medical Humanities Society. Growing up, she lived in novels and poetry. But it hadn’t occurred to her to go all in as an English major while being premed. “People involved in the humanities may not even need to go to school for what they’re wanting to do,” she said; she didn’t see what studying “The Waste Land” had to do with making it as a poet. “Also, because of the world we’re living in, there’s this desperation for being able to make money at a young age and retire at a young age,” she added.
I asked her what she meant.
“A lot of it has to do with us seeing—they call them ‘influencers’ online,” Harmanian said, pronouncing the word slowly for my benefit. “I’m twenty-one. People my age have crypto. People have agents working on their banking and trading. Instead of working nine to five for your fifteen-dollar minimum wage, you can value your time.” She and her peers had grown up in an age that saw the lie in working for the Man, so they were charging out on their own terms. “It’s because our generation is a lot more progressive in our thinking,” she told me.
For years in the United States, high culture—or, more precisely, the idea of high culture—was kept aloft with help from Cold War coffers. During the fifties and sixties, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a C.I.A.-backed anti-Communist organization, notoriously funded literary and ideas magazines with sympathetic allegiances. Other ventures were less direct. Beginning in the forties, the U.S. government mounted exhibitions of American art, and the State Department later bankrolled jazz tours overseas. The idea was: they don’t swing in Sovetsk.
It is hard to separate the effects of support for cultural endeavors from the effects of increasingly widespread college education. But, for years, there was little reason to. Through the second half of the twentieth century, the opening up of the university to the outside world and the work valued in that world aligned. Being able to appreciate a Thelonious Monk record or a Miller play or the wild sprawl of a Pynchon novel was a widely held objective. The concept of “the canon” is a mirage—there’s no single list handed down from the mountain—but the idea of shared knowledge of challenging art is powerful, and by mid-century it had been framed as a route to upward mobility. The French sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron coined the term “cultural capital” to define the inherited or acquired cultural knowledge that makes movement and advancement easier in a field of society, and by the sixties, in America, that kind of wealth was newly open for the claiming. In 1962, Nichols and May, the aspirational university-humor act, performed for President Kennedy alongside Marilyn Monroe. In 1964, “My Fair Lady”—a verbally dense musical of transformation through upward acculturation—grossed several times as much in cinemas as “A Hard Day’s Night.”
In other contexts, though, the government’s investments could be seen as having backfired. Most institutional-opposition movements of the past sixty years, from Vietnam protest to today’s defund-the-police efforts, have been amplified on campuses. That’s partly because fields like literature and history teach close, fact-based study and critical analysis with the goal of pulling up the rug to understand what’s going on beneath. When students graduate and seek changes in broader society, they carry those practices with them. If they’re young, their language is still the current language of the university, so the causes bounce back to professors and students at a convivial angle. That feedback loop is partly how youth movements grow.
Some scholars observe that, in classrooms today, the initial gesture of criticism can seem to carry more prestige than the long pursuit of understanding. One literature professor and critic at Harvard—not old or white or male—noticed that it had become more publicly rewarding for students to critique something as “problematic” than to grapple with what the problems might be; they seemed to have found that merely naming concerns had more value, in today’s cultural marketplace, than curiosity about what underlay them. This clay-pigeon approach to inquiry struck her as a devaluation of all that criticism—and art—can do.
Others, though, suggest that the humanities’ loss of cultural capital has been hastened by the path of humanities scholarship itself. One theory is that the critical practices have become too specialized. Once, in college, you might have studied “Mansfield Park” by looking closely at its form, references, style, and special marks of authorial genius—the way Vladimir Nabokov famously taught the novel, and an intensification of the way a reader on the subway experiences the book. Now you might write a paper about how the text enacts a tension by both constructing and subtly undermining the imperial patriarchy through its descriptions of landscape. What does this have to do with how most humans read? Rita Felski, whose book “Uses of Literature” is studied in Adams’s A.S.U. class, has argued that the professional practice of scholarship has become self-defeatingly disdainful of moving literary encounters. “In retrospect, much of the grand theory of the last three decades now looks like the last gasp of an Enlightenment tradition of rois philosophes persuaded that the realm of speculative thought would absolve them of the shameful ordinariness of a messy, mundane, error-prone existence,” she wrote. “Contemporary critics pride themselves on their power to disenchant.” The disenchantment, at least, has reached students. When I was in college—not terribly long ago—a life in letters seemed one of the lower ridges of Olympus. Speaking from a sample size of one, I can report that a shift in perception is noticeable. At Harvard and A.S.U., several students inquired with furrowed brow about my prospects, whether I was going to be O.K. Especially after years of grim stories about publishing, the shine has come off.
Bring back the awe, some say, and students will follow. “In my department, the author is very much alive!” Robert Faggen, a Robert Frost scholar and a longtime literature professor at Claremont McKenna, told me, to account for the still healthy enrollment he sees there. (There are institutional outliers to the recent trend of enrollment decline; the most prominent is U.C. Berkeley.) “We are very concerned with the beauty of things, with aesthetics, and ultimately with judgment about the value of works of art. I think there is a hunger among students for the thrill that comes from truth and beauty.”
If this is so, the trail to studying truth and beauty must still be blazed; it can’t come from walking backward. That’s challenging, many scholars worry, without the national mandate that the humanities had fifty years ago. “My big beef with the Obamas was that every sentence out of their mouth was STEM , STEM , STEM , STEM —and then the arts, nothing in between,” Ayanna Thompson, a Shakespeare scholar who directs A.S.U.’s Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the RaceB4Race conference series, told me. “We never heard anything from Trump, and we’re not hearing anything from Biden, either.”
One afternoon, I walked across the Charles River, past the Harvard Business School, to Western Avenue, where, two years ago, the university opened a five-hundred-and-forty-four-thousand-square-foot Science and Engineering Complex, which reportedly cost a billion dollars. Just inside the entrance, an enormous painted wall display read “ OUR RESEARCH: TACKLING SOCIETAL CHALLENGES .” Placards noted that the complex, in the spirit of the Ark, could “maintain critical research activities” during the grid loss and floods of a hundred-year storm. I tapped a jumbo touch screen on a wall, and a keyboard appeared, offering directions. I passed a digital triptych by the art collective BREAKFAST , and hundreds of magnetic disks traced my profile in a sequinlike cascade of mirrored light.
The new complex houses Harvard’s engineering, bioengineering, computer-science, and data-science departments. In the basic sense, it was conceived in 1997, when the university announced the acquisition of fifty-two acres of land in the Boston neighborhood of Allston. But it wasn’t until after Larry Summers became president, in 2001, that a vision for that land was made public.
Summers imagined “the next Silicon Valley, with all that it means and all that it brings,” with an emphasis on industrial opportunities for biomedical research. In “Beyond the Ivory Tower” (1982), Derek Bok, Harvard’s president through the seventies and eighties, had warned about “commercial ventures” posing “dangers for the quality of research and even for the intellectual integrity of the university itself.” At the time, such doubts prevailed. When, in 1980, the gene-transcription pioneer Mark Ptashne was induced to launch a bioengineering company from his professorship, storm clouds rose around him. Summers’s appointment—like A.S.U.’s presidential appointment, the following year, of the tech-policy specialist Michael Crow—signalled an openness to business with the new global private sector. In 2004, Harvard hired a “chief technology development officer” to aid in the commercialization of research. In 2010, Xi Jinping withdrew his only child from college in China and enrolled her at Harvard—a gesture that affirmed the university’s arrival as a hub of Swiss disinterest on the byways of industrial diplomacy. In 2012, Harvard and M.I.T. founded edX, which markets branded courses online. The university promotes its Science and Engineering Complex as the “most significant new building constructed by Harvard in a generation.”
That was certainly the impression I got as I walked through the complex’s eight floors and open hallways, arranged around a central vault. The materials and the color palette suggested the space station in “2001.” The ground floor, flecked with vivid-red Fritz Hansen swan chairs, comprised classrooms, a state-of-the-art auditorium, and a workshop of whizbangs and doodads called the Makerspace. Up some floating staircases, a landing was arrayed with Ping-Pong and foosball tables and a snuggery of orange Knoll womb chairs. One floor up from that, half a dozen Peloton bikes faced a giant window overlooking a bioscience mural by the artist Sophy Tuttle. I didn’t climb aboard and pedal in my jeans, as must have been the hope, in part because I felt quite exercised already. Wandering the building’s hallways, a proud dean told Harvard Magazine , is a six-mile walk.
On the top floor, I passed a student and a professor in a hoodie talking about job placement at Toyota. I visited the complex’s library, filled with volumes such as “The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything.” Nearby, a row of large booths containing desks were hung with yellow curtains ready to be whisked across for privacy, like the partitions in a massage parlor. Sleek glass whiteboards lined the common spaces, and the labs were glass-walled, too, affording passersby like me a glimpse of dummy torsos draped in bionic garments, and prototypes for “a colony of robotic bees.” I followed a gaggle of STEM students to the ample gardens. As a soft drizzle began to fall, I got on a zero-emissions shuttle blaring the Talking Heads song “Wild Wild Life” and took a rollicking ride back to Harvard Square. In school, I had been friendly to the sciences, but I had majored in the humanities, and since then I’d never had a moment’s real regret. After half an hour in this new complex, I was prepared to do it all again and choose the interesting, vivifying life path of an engineer.
Students pick up on the emphasis. At the point when, in 1996, the university opened a refurbished humanities building, humanities enrollment was rising; now a new mandate is clear. “Harvard is spending a huge amount of money on the engineering school,” a sophomore mechanical-engineering major said at dinner in the dorms one evening. It was curry night in Pforzheimer House, and a dozen students were chatting at a long table, finishing their meals. “Mark Zuckerberg just gave another half billion dollars for an A.I. and natural-intelligence research institute, and they added new professorships. The money at Harvard—and a lot of other universities, too—is disproportionately going into STEM .” According to the Harvard Crimson , which conducts an annual survey, more than sixty per cent of the members of the class of 2020 planning to enter the workforce were going into tech, finance, or consulting.
“I think that the presence of big tech and consulting firms on campus is a big part of people’s perception that you can’t get a job in the humanities,” Hana, a senior in integrative biology, chimed in at the table. “Google, Facebook, Deloitte, B.C.G. . . .” She shrugged in exasperation. “They just have access to our campus in a really pervasive way!” The first time she was buttonholed by a consulting firm was freshman year.
And the humanities’ desperate efforts to compete, Hana added, merely ceded the terms. “I remember being excited about taking a Folklore & Mythology class,” she said. “But the people in the department were marketing it, saying, ‘Oh, well, you know, consulting is just ‘telling a story’—and we have people who study Folk & Myth going into . . . consulting!”
For some, the idea that if the prevailing interests can’t be beaten they can be joined is the natural next step in opening up the university. In a bank-gray administrative building called University Hall one morning, Harvard’s dean of arts and humanities, Robin Kelsey, an art historian with a tidy tam of silvery hair, told me that his hope was to “disaggregate what departments do” to match students’ interests in the world beyond the gates. “Our departmental structure formed between 1890 and 1968,” he said. Since then, nothing had changed in departments, even as big changes were under way in life. Outside the window, twin lampposts carried banner portraits of alumnae in the sciences. “ IMPACT, ” one said. “ INNOVATION, ” said the other.
One idea about the national enrollment problem is that it’s actually a counting problem: students haven’t so much left the building as come in through another door. Adjacent fields aren’t included in humanities tallies, and some of them are booming. Harvard’s history-of-science department has seen a fifty-per-cent increase in its majors in the past five years. The humanities creature who recites Cavafy at parties might fade away, but students are still getting their vitamins. There’s a lot of ethics in bioethics, after all.
Echoing the work at A.S.U., Kelsey regards the drifting of humanities skills into other fields as the way of the future. (This mixing has a pecuniary benefit, too: humanities deans like Kelsey and Cohen rarely have first crack at big donations, so nesting their divisions’ doings in the sciences and the social sciences can help with funding.) Instead of determining majors by how professors organize themselves, why not also match majors to topics that resonate in the current moment, like climate change and racial justice? I wondered aloud whether that was a moving target—the concerns in our headlines today are different from those fifteen years ago—but Kelsey insisted that some causes were here to stay. “I would like to see us come out with better platforms for studying the environmental humanities, migration and ethnicity, and the medical humanities,” he said.
And the techie-fuzzy collaborations have good models. One afternoon, I visited the chair of Harvard’s comparative-literature department, Jeffrey Schnapp, who is involved in Kelsey’s disaggregation. Schnapp, a shaved-headed man with a trim gray Vandyke and two small rings in his left ear, sat me at a round table in an office filled with industrial-design artifacts. “I always thought that the models of the humanities that we inherited were open for expansion and innovation,” he said. Behind him, in a corner, lay several trophies from his years racing motorcycles on the West Coast.
Schnapp was a Dante scholar and, as a young professor, had helped lead the Dartmouth Dante Project, a vast textual database that was an early triumph of the so-called digital humanities. At Stanford, where he taught from 1985 to 2009, he founded the Stanford Humanities Lab, in part to apply computational techniques to literary and historical study. When Harvard brought him East, he founded a version of it called metaLAB—a project that he saw as true to his scholarly origins. “Medieval literary culture was not ‘literary’ in the way that we understood it in the nineteenth century, when printing became an industry. It was polychrome,” Schnapp said.
To show what he meant, he picked up a brightly colored paperback, which he co-wrote, called “The Electric Information Age Book.” “This is a book on the history of experimental paperbacks, like Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium Is the Massage,’ ” he said, and leafed through, revealing pages of wild typefaces and pictures. Another volume he had co-written used “little microessays connected to the future of libraries and library furnishings,” and was published with a deck of playing cards. “ ‘Making’ can mean writing books, but it can also involve other forms, such as building software platforms infused with values from the humanities,” he said, and flipped over the bottom card.
To fund metaLAB, Schnapp has had to be strategic about adapting projects to what he called “research incentives”—though the techie cast of his work helped. “There’s no commensurability of scale between the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities,” he said. They weren’t even close. “A friend of mine likes to point out that the total budget of the N.E.H. is the same budget as just the Vienna State Opera.”
In 1980, on average, state funding accounted for seventy-nine per cent of public universities’ revenue. By 2019, that figure was fifty-five per cent, and governors such as Ron DeSantis, in Florida, are applying new pressure for funding cuts. Confronted with those shortfalls, public universities have two options. They can strip down academics, and face what that diminishment leads to. Or they can run to the market and surf its waves.
Because the state of Arizona cut higher-education funding by more than half between 2008 and 2019, A.S.U. has gone the market route. It invested in its online education, which gained prestige when the school figured out how to give remote students credited laboratory time. (The solution was a system of intensive camps designed by Ara Austin, an assistant professor who took college courses online after a traffic accident and later chafed at such programs’ second-tier, cash-cow status.) Diplomas are the same whether earned online or on site, and the extra tuition, plus donor funds, fills A.S.U.’s sails. In 2007, the university received twenty-eight per cent of its operating budget from the state; last year, it was only nine per cent, for a budget of $4.6 billion. “We are operating in full enterprise modality,” the president, Michael Crow, announced. To put it differently: many of the greatest American public universities increasingly run as private businesses.
A side effect of A.S.U.’s remote-learning boom has been improvement in its humanities numbers. On paper, the number of English majors at A.S.U. has grown, even as the number of students in English classrooms has dropped. Several professors insisted to me that they really, truly felt no preference for online or on-site students—but that they did notice a difference in the demographics of who showed up onscreen.
“These are people in their thirties and forties who have been stay-at-home parents, or they work. And they are committed to the humanities—they have an idea about the value of liberal-arts education,” Ayanna Thompson, the A.S.U. English professor, told me. Partly, it was a cohort thing, given that the older students represent the views of older generations. But it was also a matter of life experience. The university has a partnership with Starbucks, which pays for its baristas to earn bachelor’s degrees online (a recruitment tool for the coffee company and a revenue source for the school), and what someone who has been in the grind of life wants to learn most isn’t necessarily linear algebra.
“Personally, I love my English major, and it really bums me out when ninety per cent of the people I talk to have input that’s negative!” McKenna Nelson, who enrolled remotely at A.S.U. while working at a Starbucks in Southern California, said. “I don’t think life should revolve around money—I’d rather go to work happy.” (She wants to teach.)
Surprisingly, many in the future biz concur. A funny thing about the market mentality, they note, is that it knows only what’s judged to have future value right now. Career studies have shown that humanities majors, with their communication and analytical skills, often end up in leadership jobs. To that extent, the value of the educated human touch is likely to hold in a storm of technological and cultural change.
“Imagine if you had a voice assistant that could write code for you, and you said, ‘Hey, Alexa, build me a Web site to sell shoes,’ ” Sanjay Sarma, a professor of mechanical engineering at M.I.T., told me on the phone. (Immediately, he pulled the receiver away to rebuff a device in the room: “Shut up, Alexa! No! No!”) “That’s already happening. It’s called ‘low-code.’ ” There has been much hand-wringing about ChatGPT and its ability to replicate some composition tasks. But ChatGPT can no more conceive “Mrs. Dalloway” than it can guide and people-manage an organization. Instead, A.I. can gather and order information, design experiments and processes, produce descriptive writing and mediocre craftwork, and compose basic code, and those are the careers likeliest to go into slow eclipse.
“I think the future belongs to the humanities,” Sarma said.
In a fit of inspiration or desperation, the Harvard English department has started handing out tote bags with slogans such as “ currently reading ” printed on them. (“They’re trying,” a senior told me.) The department has set up alumni panels, and embraced change. As of this year, it is possible to receive a degree in English from Harvard without taking a course dedicated to poetry. There are plentiful offerings in creative writing—in the age of the “maker economy,” the idea goes, students want to send material into the world—and forays into new media. Stephen Greenblatt, one of the highest-ranking humanities professors by the stripes and badges of the trade, told me that he’d come to think that literary students had a future somewhere other than the page.
“It happens that we do have a contemporary form of very deep absorption of the kind comparable to literary study,” he said. We were sitting in his paper-piled office. “And that is long-form television. ‘The Wire,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Chernobyl’—there are dozens of these now!” He rocked back to rest his feet on the edge of his desk. “It’s a fantastic invention.”
Greenblatt popped open a green egg of Silly Putty and began to knead it vigorously. For a moment, he seemed lost in thought.
“ ‘Better Call Saul,’ ” he added.
He liked to think of Shakespeare reading “Don Quixote,” in 1612, and marvelling at this new narrative form: the novel! So it was today, with “Better Call Saul.” He wondered whether literature departments should do more with TV.
And yet the blissful English students whom I talked to—there were many—surprised me with their indifference to the things that grownups higher in the food chain said they wanted. Ashley Kim, a junior, had been an intended economics major with a falling-asleep-in-class problem. When she kept emerging happy and alert from Tara Menon’s 9 a.m. City Fictions course, she switched to English. “It isn’t just people trying to learn something to get a job,” she explained.
Jeffrey Kwan, a physics and mathematics major down the hall from Kim, takes one English class a semester. “I get so much out of English because it’s the professor telling you what they thought about the work, as opposed to skills you have to learn,” he said. But he would never major in it, he told me, because he felt underqualified. “I try to figure out when to insert myself into the discussion.”
Kim concurred. “When I first joined the English department, I felt seen, but I also felt, Maybe I don’t belong,” she said. She’d gone to a magnet public school in New Jersey and felt a step behind the sanguine private-school kids in knowing how to perform her interest in the classroom.
That kind of sorting is often invisible at first. “It definitely is a very specific community in the humanities,” Rebecca Cadenhead, an upperclassman from Westchester County, told me. “People in this group are usually from the Northeast, are usually upper middle class, are usually white, honestly, and are a certain way.” That way had a fashion element: chunky statement shoes (Doc Martens, Blundstones), baggy trousers (mostly Carhartt), and vintage sweaters. “There are many people of color and many low-income people in the humanities, but in general it’s people with that vibe, and we all know each other.”
Cadenhead started out in applied mathematics—she’d been urged toward science in high school—but ended up a philosophy major, adding African American studies for fear that “the philosophy department would not have as many nonwhite thinkers.” Yet she worried that her path remained illegible outside the Blundstone circle. And, for students of color, it seemed to her, the weight of being judged less academic for studying the humanities was multiplied. “Sometimes I have a concern that when people are encountering me they might assume that I’m here because of affirmative action,” she said. “A lot of people of color here at least initially gravitate towards the sciences, because they think they’ll be perceived as more intelligent if they do.”
Hearing students and teachers discuss their accommodations to the new order of things reminded me of the gag in which Charlie Chaplin and a bellhop chase each other endlessly through a revolving door. Everyone agrees that the long arc of higher education must bend toward openness and democratization. And universities, in an imperfect but forward-inching way, are achieving the dream. In 1985, twenty per cent of Harvard students identified as members of a minority ethnicity (a record then); now it’s more than fifty per cent. The number of entering students who are in the first generation in their families to attend college has risen to nearly twenty per cent. International enrollment has climbed. At A.S.U., you can be a barista in rural Alabama and get part-time access to a first-rate education for cheap. The way in which diversity of experience is understood to enrich study, and in which diverse study is understood to enrich society, is a product of work done in the humanities. Harvard and A.S.U. professors to whom I spoke took pride in their institutions’ democratizing feats.
It is only slightly awkward, then, that this opening of the field has nudged educational incentives away from humanities study. The students whom universities most seek are the ones likeliest to require immediate conversion of their degrees into life change. They need the socioeconomic elevator that college promised them. And they need it the instant they lose institutional support.
During the postwar swell of public funding for education, conveyances picked up humanities students right where their B.A. diplomas left them: they could go to graduate school, and on to a stable, rewarding career in teaching and writing; or they could leave the academy for arts-and-letters careers plainly valued by society and at least remunerative enough to sustain a modest middle-class life. Today, the academic profession of the humanities is a notoriously haywire career track, with Ph.D. programs enrolling more students than there are jobs, using them for teaching, and then, years later, sending them off with doctoral gowns and no future in the discipline. (In 2020, the Survey of Earned Doctorates found that less than half of new arts and humanities Ph.D.s graduated with a job—any job—and the odds are vanishing even with élite credentials: of fifteen people who began Princeton’s English Ph.D. program in 2012, only two have landed on a tenure track.) Although the public-funding arc and the university-opening arc once grew in happy parallel, intensifying the value of humanistic cultural capital while expanding access to it, those curves have now crossed.
It also happens that low-access or first-generation college students are likeliest to be underrepresented in, and nudged toward, STEM fields. If they do wander into a humanities course when they arrive, they can feel—like Kim—that the milieu is red-shifted away from them. A telling data point here is one of the most seemingly promising. Humanities enrollment is down among bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral students, but it is increasing among students seeking two-year associate’s degrees. And it is increasing among high-school students taking A.P. courses. High schoolers, in fact, now take over twenty per cent more humanities A.P. tests than tests in stem every year. The loss of humanities numbers isn’t happening in the collegiate pipeline, in other words. It is happening when these students walk through the university gates.
Robert Townsend, the co-director of the Humanities Indicators, attributed the drop-off to acceleration tracks themselves—another tool designed to help low-access students. Smart humanities-oriented kids are taking the A.P.s, or studying English or history at community college, so, by the time they make it to four-year colleges, they’ve placed out of humanities requirements: classes in which students often fall in love with the field. In that way, too, students whom the universities are keenest to recruit are pre-sorted away from the humanities. And, for global students, the incentives are more acute.
Sazi Bongwe, a Harvard freshman from Johannesburg, collaborated with three friends in high school during the pandemic on a magazine called Ukuzibuza . On arriving in Cambridge, he had to consider that the F1 visa, for international students, allows for a stay of a year in the U.S. after graduation—except for majors in a STEM field, in which case one year of grace becomes three. Bongwe had come to Harvard with thoughts of a humanities major. But, like several international students with whom I spoke, he worried that the choice would be naïve.
“Am I just putting myself in a position where, in four years’ time, I’m going to be earning significantly less money than people I went to school with?” he asked. For students maintaining ties to countries with struggling economies—where the dollar goes far, and where their arrival at places like Harvard or A.S.U. carries the hopes of their communities—the moral and financial calculi are more than personal.
In previous eras, these pressures were counterbalanced by investment in the culture of the humanities. Now universities increasingly depend on the markets and their short-term goals. In Harvard Square one afternoon, I met Saul Glist, a tall history-and-literature major. Glist had been drawn toward his field, he said, because in his humanities classes he felt less like a student absorbing information and more like a young thinker. If he didn’t keep seeing statistics about the humanities crisis, he’d never have known it existed, he told me.
“I think it’s really a question of what the university is investing in,” Glist said. “When you’re telling touring students, ‘This is our shiny new building that is the jewel of our expanding campus,’ and are making no visible investments in the humanities, that creates a narrative.” He believed that universities were all too happy to accept plummeting humanities enrollments, because the story of decline created its own vortex—one that drew away duties that the university, in its present pursuit of growth and revenue, might prefer not to deal with.
Some have resigned themselves. “The age of Anglophilia is over,” one late-career English professor told me. “It’s like thinking back to when Latin was the center of the world—the memorization of lines and competing with your friends at Oxford and Eton in quips.” The great age of the novel had served a cloistered, highly regionalized readership, but that, too, had changed. “I don’t think reading novels is now the only way to have a broad experience of the varieties of human nature or the ethical problems that people face,” he said.
But Glist resisted the narrative of diminishment. “The question we should be asking is not whether the humanities have any role in our society or the university in fifty or a hundred years!” he exclaimed. “It’s what do investments in the humanities look like—and what kind of ideal future can we imagine?”
Not long ago, Justin Kovach, the A.S.U. senior studying data science, decided to apply to graduate school in literature. “It would be really cool to study English literature really specifically,” he told me one afternoon. “I thought about creative writing, but I think I’d rather do literature.”
At A.S.U., in the humanities division, there have been some early signs of real improvement. The number of majors on campus was slightly increasing after almost a decade of near-constant decline. Jeffrey Cohen had the pleasure of seeing his marketing campaign begin to bear fruit. “I do wonder if it’s because students got more involved in humanities during COVID ,” he told me. But, just to be sure, a new interdisciplinary major would start in the fall: Culture, Technology, and Environment. “Those are the three things that young people always have on their minds,” he explained.
Suzzanne Bigelow, one of Brandi Adams’s students in English 206, met me at a café after class one day to report on her work. She had started college as a psychology major on a volleyball scholarship, but felt lost. “I was doing an application for a Hispanic scholarship, and one of the questions was ‘Where do you see yourself in ten years?’ ” she said. “And I was, like, I don’t know .”
Last year, she started fresh, as an English major. “My future dream career would be to be a novelist,” she said, then added, “I haven’t told that to anyone yet.” Her favorite novel is “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe, but recently she was reading “The Human Stain,” by Philip Roth, and it inspired her to try something of her own.
“He’s an amazing writer, and I feel like, How am I going to be in comparison to that?” Bigelow told me. “Which is obviously unfair, because he’s one of the greatest American novelists, and who am I? Just some English major at A.S.U.” She looked at me slyly, then glanced away. “But I’ve been practicing more by myself. And I don’t know. You never know what’s a possibility,” she said. ♦
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The meaning of ESSAY is an analytic or interpretative literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view. How to use essay in a sentence.
Defining the Term – What is an Essay? The essay is a written piece that is designed to present an idea, propose an argument, express the emotion or initiate debate. It is a tool that is used to present writer’s ideas in a non-fictional way.
The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature: its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism, although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists.
The literary essay is counted as one of the major genres in literature. It is found alongside dramaturgy, narrative and poetry —although with a more didactic nuance—. It is a short text written in prose where the author analyzes, examines or interprets a topic in a subjective but documented way. Its purpose is to argue about a specific topic.
This new edition of “What is Literature?” also collects three other crucial essays of Sartre’s for the first time. The essays presenting Sartre’s monthly, Les Temps modernes, and on the peculiarly French manner of nationalizing literature do much to create a context for Sartre’s treatise.
The multiversity does have a long project, though, and that is the project of opening itself to the world. In the nineteen-thirties, Harvard began making motions in the direction of socioeconomic ...