Paul Reitter is Professor in German Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University. Reitter is the author of Bambi’s Jewish Roots and Other Essays on German-Jewish Culture (Bloom...
John P. Birkelund Lecture
The Humanities in an Age of Disenchantment
In the late nineteenth century, the German system of higher education was considered by many to be the best in the world. Reformers such as Andrew Dickson White, cofounder of Cornell University, looked to the German model to help reshape American academia for the modern age. Such international esteem persisted as a point of national pride for German academics—even as dismay began to creep into the discourse about the state of the country’s higher education—particularly among humanists: funding disparities between the humanities and more practical disciplines, increasing vocationalism, and the fragmentation of knowledge. These complaints continue among today’s humanists, who often seem unaware of the deeper history of the trends they decry. In this talk, historian Paul Reitter explores the emergence of the German idea of “the humanities in crisis,” its historical causes and dissemination, and its presence in the fraught discussion of the humanities today.