- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (January 16, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226109216
- ISBN-13: 978-0226109213
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,371,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University 1st Edition
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“We are used to thinking of academic structures and pomp as ‘traditional,’ a throwback to an unspecified earlier time—maybe antiquity, maybe more recent. By contrast, William Clark gives the material and sociological bricks of the ivory tower historical specificity and by doing so takes the university apart. How do the category and comportment of the modern professor come into being? Are researchers heroes? Are they gentlemen? Are they bureaucrats? Robes and disputations, exams, and architecture: all grist for Clark’s mill. In this historical dissection of the university, Clark has created a world that is at once very erudite and immensely funny, an imaginative and beautifully researched step beyond the schematics of Bourdieu’s classic Homo Academicus. Anyone who wants to understand how universities got to be the way they are should grab this book off the shelf.”
“William Clark is an incredibly original and sensible traveler through the history of German academia. The book is a marvel in its combination of stupendous scholarship and enjoyable reading. After all, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University is like a mirror that shows us academics numerous characteristics of ourselves and our institutions, details we usually ignore.”
“This magisterial book offers a compelling new account of the origins of the research-based university. Drawing on an astonishing wealth of sources, it explores in fascinating detail the transformations of university life from the Reformation to the Romantic era. This will be required reading for historians of European culture and for all academics curious about their origins.”
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Clarks's grand narrative -- the eclipse of the oral by the written in the Academy -- sounds more Derridean than Foucaultian actually, but the real point of the book seem to be to show how productive an exercise in Foucaultian method can be, to show how much can be learned from a series of painstaking analyses of miscellaneous material from the archives. These analyses are often extremely entertaining and interesting. (I did find some for me uninteresting stretches, but they never lasted too long, and the book rewards the reader's patience by eventually getting good again -- indeed, it keeps you reading for nearly 500 pages... no mean feat these days!) Still, there's something funny about them (I imagine future historians trying to deduce the nature of our culture by studying such things as collections of plastic Denny's placemats preserved in some archive...), but one cannot help but be dazzled by the depth and breadth of the research this book displays.
The irony here, of course, is that Clark's book clearly participates in the triumph of research whose history it deconstructively reconstructs. Clark recognizes this, and tells us (again showing his good humor) that he was surprised by his former teacher's reaction, since he himself thought his book would be read as "a long-winded diatribe on the ultimate identity of narcissism and nihilism." I think few readers will take it that way, but the book does open up that abyss. Here one cannot help but recall what Clark says about the early dissertations he researched in his own dissertation:
"Most of the erudite dissertations in appendix 4 do not add up to anything beyond themselves. They are specimens of erudition. They resemble displays and exhibitions. ...One cultivated the classical or illuminated the obscure. In either case, the point was display, virtuosity the key."
Clark goes on to show, however, that the early dissertations which were erudite displays of useless knowledge soon evolved into the more familiar, cumulative genre in which dissertations became overlapping pieces of a larger puzzle, thereby contributing to the birth of modern scholarship. Clark's own book is impressive not only for the mountains of research it digests and presents, but also because it is sure to encourage all manner of future research into the fascinating topic of the history of the institutions that continue to shape so many of us. While undeniabley dazzling, Clark's book strikes me as a useful (rather than useless) display of erudition. I cannot predict how the book will be received, other than well, but I suspect that Clark -- instead of (or at least in addition to) being seen as a narcissistic nihilist -- will soon find himself teaching at an elite research university!
I might just add that the book, as a work by a historian intended primarily for historians, does not seem to have realized how widely it would be read, and so does not systematically present much of the historical background against which its various analyses unfold, instead assuming its readers will already possess that historical background. Still, the narrative is rich enough that one can absorb most of the historical background by induction.
For those (such as this reviewer) who are not familiar with the history behind the research university, but who crave to understand why it functions the way that it does, will find many surprises in this book and many questions answered. What are the origins for example of the doctoral dissertation, the oral exam, and the seminar? When did faculty salaries become an issue for the university? What is the origin of the endowed chair? Why are some professors held in such high esteem when their credentials are really weak in comparison to others? When was the first doctorate given? The answers to these questions will be surprising for the reader who has viewed the university as a citadel of truth that is completely divorced from historical context.
It is a little odd to view a professor as possessing "charisma", a word that the title of this book contains. When one calls an individual charismatic it is usually a person such as a military or political leader, who is able, through rhetoric or some other equally nefarious technique of power mongering, to convince others to rally behind his causes. But the charisma of a professor or a holder of an academic chair is tied to a spirit of uncritical adulation, generated by fame and a certain display of "originality" in their writings, the author argues, and he traces the art of charisma acquisition to the German Protestant Lands of the eighteenth century. It survived the rationalization of the Enlightenment and the Romanticist countermovement to bring about the system that we have today: one of "fame through publication" instead of the oral tradition of centuries ago.
The author sounds disappointed, and rightfully so, that this doctrine of charisma was spared, referring to history as being "cunning" in allowing it to survive. But unfortunately the academy is stuck with it, along with anonymous refereeing that encourages verbal sadism, a "publish or perish" mentality that favors lesser problems over ones of fundamental significance, and unbridled sycophancy to faculty who chair institutes and rule adroitly if not robotically. If anything this book will begin a dialog that will grow to such an extent that it will counter the "self-evident" truths that are axiomatized by the members of the current academic elite. It shows at bare minimum that institutions are the result of history and cultural evolution, and their expressions are not carved in stone. It will be interesting to see how rapid the research institution will change. It is currently facing a population of researchers who reach each other through the free exchange that technology provides them. The research journal may become a thing of the past, replaced with rapid communications enabled by the Internet and very inexpensive publication. Will the charisma of the research professor survive this (cunning?) technological and historical whirlwind? Maybe, but most probably not.