I work at the intersection of political and intellectual history, with a particular focus on American debates about the cultural and intellectual conditions for democratic governance. Much of my work has examined the roles that the universities and disciplines have played in American political thought since the Civil War. I am especially concerned to trace how discursive elements move between the broad sphere of public culture and the increasingly specialized academic disciplines, and to understand the political contexts for this circulation—how concepts, arguments, and interpretive frames generated in the universities have functioned as resources or obstacles for those seeking to make political change and, conversely, how beliefs about the political import of various forms of knowledge have shaped the trajectory of academic thought.
My forthcoming book, To Make America Scientific: Science, Democracy, and the University Before the Cold War, examines a wide range of intellectual and institutional endeavors through which university-based scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sought to bring critical resources drawn from the sciences (especially the social sciences and affiliated forms of philosophy) to bear on the task of transforming American public discourse. In my second project, which focuses on science and religion in the mid-twentieth-century United States, I am exploring how postwar changes in American political culture influenced the very meanings of the terms “science” and “religion.” Other current research interests include the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, the evolution of “the middle class” as a cultural object, the public engagements of professional philosophers, the shifting political valences of critiques of scientific neutrality, the everyday texture of academic life in the 1920s and 1930s, and the changing contours of secularism and secularity.
I teach a range of courses on knowledge, politics, and public culture, as well as Social Studies 10a-10b. Recent offerings in the History Department include “Science and Religion in American Public Culture,” “The Human Sciences in the Modern West,” and “Public Opinion and American Democracy.” I supervise student research projects and general exam preparation in several fields, including History, Social Studies, History of American Civilization, History of Science, and The Study of Religion.
This year, I am also co-directing, with Julie A. Reuben of the Graduate School of Education, the fellowship program of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. The topic is “The Politics of Knowledge in Universities and the State.” (See link at right for details.)
Prior to arriving at Harvard in 2007, I taught at Yale, Vanderbilt, Cornell, and NYU and held fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the Cornell Society for the Humanities. In my spare time, I can be found chasing my young son around the playgrounds of Cambridge.