Category Archives: Defining “Liberal Arts”

Enrollment Management: The Stoic’s Version

I have had a few interesting conversations with colleagues online about recent news of falling enrollments in college history courses nationwide, conversations which broadly echo similar discussions among faculty in other disciplines about the same phenomenon in their classes. Speaking … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Production of History | 6 Comments


Over the last decade, I’ve found my institutional work as a faculty member squeezed into a kind of pressure gradient. On one side, our administration has been requesting or requiring more and more data, reporting and procedures that are either … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Oh Not Again He's Going to Tell Us It's a Complex System, Swarthmore | 5 Comments

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

I was a part of an interesting conversation about assessment this week. I left the discussion thinking that we had in fact become more systematically self-examining in the last decade in a good way. If accrediting agencies want to take … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Swarthmore | 2 Comments

Practice What We Preach?

I’ve been reworking an essay on the concept of “liberal arts” this week. One of the major issues I’m trying to think about is the relatively weak match between what many liberal arts faculty frequently say about the lifelong advantages … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Swarthmore | 6 Comments

Wary About Wisdom

Cathy Davidson has been steadily working away at the problem of inequality within higher education and at how higher education contributes to inequality. I admire the intensity of her focus and her willingness to consider radical rethinking of institutions of … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts" | 6 Comments

The Listicle as Course Design

I’ve been convinced for a while that one of the best defenses of small classes and face-to-face pedagogy within a liberal arts education would be to make the process of that kind of teaching and coursework more visible to anyone … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Digital Humanities, Production of History, Swarthmore | 3 Comments

Playing the Odds

The idea that higher education makes you a better person in some respect has long been its soft underbelly. The proposition makes most current faculty and administrators uncomfortable, especially at the smaller teaching-centered colleges that are prone to invoke tropes … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Generalist's Work, Swarthmore | 10 Comments

Read the Comments

I keep coming back, obsessively and neurotically, to the question of what a liberal arts education is good for. I do think it helps with the skills that pay the bills. I do think it can make you a better … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Defining "Liberal Arts", Miscellany | Comments Off on Read the Comments

Now I’m In For It

So I’ve overhauled my survey course on the history of the Atlantic slave trade in West Africa this semester as an experiment in “flipping the classroom”. I’m not quite flipping the way that some do, with lectures as homework and … Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Africa, Defining "Liberal Arts", Swarthmore | 5 Comments

Teleology and the Fermi Paradox

I sometimes joke to my students that “teleology” is one of those things like “functionalism” that humanist intellectuals now instinctively recoil from or hiss at without even bothering to explain any longer to a witness who is less in-the-know what … Continue reading

Posted in Defining "Liberal Arts", Generalist's Work, Sheer Raw Geekery | 5 Comments