Sheldon Rothblatt

Sheldon Rothblatt author of Revolution of the Dons, is a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.

Deconstructing America

Sheldon Rothblatt, 23 July 1992

The topic of national self-regard falls under the general historical heading of ‘exceptionalism’ – where claims are made as to the unique quality of national experience, or ‘character’. The two are usually connected. How a nation views its elementary virtues or basic inclinations is obviously significant. A shared sense of the whole has a bearing on the fashioning of political campaigns, on the values taught in the family and at school, on social and urban policies, on the construction of the workplace, on definitions of success and failure and on the response of its citizenry to moments of crisis.’

Education and Exclusion

Sheldon Rothblatt, 13 February 1992

In the 1960s President Clark Kerr of the University of California explained why the multiversity can absorb dreamers and utopians without exciting affection. The ‘idea’ of a multiversity is that it has no conception of ‘essence’. The multiversity has a long nave with plentiful seating and many smaller circumjacent chapels. In the next decade, David Riesman and Gerald Grant continued in the same vein but added: ‘Occasionally a visionary from one of the side altars will seize the main pulpit … to lecture the vulgar utilitarians and then march off to found a rival church.’ Among the Luthers they placed Robert Maynard Hutchins.

Uncaging the beast

Sheldon Rothblatt, 16 February 1989

The ‘British School’ stands near the centre of modern anthropology. McLennan and Tylor, Malinowski and Pitt-Rivers come to mind. No one has done more to examine their leading concepts (‘culture’, ‘evolution’) or place them in perspective than George Stocking of the University of Chicago. His brilliant essays and intellectual leadership have virtually built an academic specialty. And Victorian Anthropology is unquestionably his masterpiece, a work of precision, subtlety and historical irony.

The Last Thing Said in Germany

Sheldon Rothblatt, 19 May 1988

In the 1840s a Thomas Carlyle could mimic the German pedantic style and laugh at Herr Teufelsdröckh of Wahngasse of Weissnichtwo (a scatalogical invention worthy of Jonathan Swift), but opposites are known to attract. As the century moved on, Wisenschaft, a portmanteau word connoting the highest possible academic culture, took hold of the British academic imagination. Would be scholars, slogging away at the education of young men who behaved like boys, rose as from the dead to salute the hard-working German professors on their magic mountains who did not have to shape the characters of adolescents or affect an amusing, polished and clubbable style. In 1886 Lord Acton, a student of the great Ignatz Döllinger, defined the ‘familiar type of German scholar’ as ‘the man who complained that the public library allowed him only 13 hours a day to read, the man who spent 30 years on one volume, the man who wrote on Homer in 1806 and who still wrote on Homer in 1870, the man who discovered the 358 passages in which Dictys had imitated Sallust’.

Oxford University’s Long Haul

Sheldon Rothblatt, 21 January 1988

The new History of the University of Oxford, already some twenty years in the making, is a prodigious achievement and a posthumous tribute to its general editor, the late T.H. Aston. To date, some 2500 pages of text, footnotes, tables, plates and indices have appeared, and there are four centuries and five volumes to come. As the centuries advance and the evidence mounts, the volumes become fatter. Those who have laboured in the past through D.A. Winstanley on Cambridge, C.E. Mallett on Oxford and Hastings Rashdall on the Medieval university will find the going even heavier: a reflection of the state of historical research today and the problems of assimilating or reducing unprecedented quantities of information. One reading will certainly not suffice. These are volumes for rereading and reference (and let us hope the indices are up to it, for there appear to be lacunae).

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