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The Franke Institute for the Humanities

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The University of Chicago's tradition as a leader in the humanities has always been critical and argumentative, not passively reproductive of traditional practices and values. The famous "Great Books" experiment has endured, not because a fixed list of books or a rigidly codified notion of greatness has been institutionalized here, but because the project of continuous rethinking of the fundamental human issues - the nature of civic and ethical responsibility, the uses of history, the nature of cultural forms, the purposes of knowledge - is a deeply ingrained intellectual tradition at Chicago. Students and faculty come here, not to memorize the Great Books, but to criticize them and to write new ones.

When the Franke Institute for the Humanities was founded in 1990, this critical tradition faced a special challenge of historic change in the disciplines of the humanities. It was widely acknowledged that the basic character of a humanities education had changed rapidly in the previous two decades. Indeed, the whole notion of what a general or liberal education in a free society might amount to had changed drastically in the United States over the past century. Disciplines, pedagogical techniques, research models, and technologies of cultural production had all been revolutionized several times over. Chicago maintained its leadership during these transformations, not because it signed on with every intellectual fad that came along, and not (on the other hand) because it ignored those changes, but because it remained true to its traditions of independent skepticism, critical examination, and free-ranging argument.

This tradition has always been substantially more, however, than a disembodied ethos or an abstract administrative arrangement. Everyone who has lived and worked here knows that the ethos of argument and dialogue has numerous local habitations and names, some of them found in the plethora of committees, research groups, workshops, and cross-disciplinary collaborations that seem to spring up spontaneously on the Quadrangles, some of them traceable to the intense local culture of Hyde Park, with its mixture of scholars, professionals, intellectuals, and artists from every nation and ethnic group, others enmeshed in the vast cultural resources of the city of Chicago. The university's special genius has been a genius loci, a "genius of the place," an ability to embody intellectual activity in specific institutional sites.

The Franke Institute for the Humanities is such an institutional site, a place for the coordination and promotion of advanced research in the humanities. It serves as a central clearing-house, an organ of internal and external communication about the various research programs planned or in place.



New projects that cross traditional disciplinary and departmental lines
Franke Institute Office Window
Photo Credit: Mai Vukcevich

The Franke Institute for the Humanities | 1100 East 57th Street, JRL S-118 | Chicago, Illinois 60637 | 773-702-8274