As an historian of knowledge, I teach and write about “practical intellectuals” who apply knowledge to society’s big challenges—like reforming public health, reconstructing civil society, and reinventing institutions of higher learning. Although I was trained in modern German history and European cultural history, and remain active in those fields, I also have deep roots in global, comparative history and in social theory.
My first two books examined practical intellectuals from within the framework of German history. One of them, "Medicine on a Grand Scale": Rudolf Virchow, Liberalism, and the Public Health, was a short study of one of the nineteenth century's most famous physicians and political reformers. The other, The Emancipation of Writing: German Civil Society in the Making, 1790s-1820s, analyzed the machinations of powerful local scribes (Schreiber) who participated in the profound civic and political transformation of southwestern Germany after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions.
With Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet, coauthored with my wife and Oregon colleague Lisa Wolverton, I turned squarely to the comparative, long-term study of intellectuals and knowledge systems. The book chronicles the six institutions that have fueled the quest for knowledge in the Western tradition from ancient times to the present day: the library, the monastery, the university, the Republic of Letters, the disciplines, and the laboratory. Each, we argue, has superseded its predecessors in fashioning entirely new rationales and practices for pursuing knowledge in response to society’s needs.
My current research centers on the transformation of U.S. higher education over the last 40 years, building in part on my experiences as a 2016-17 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, during which I shadowed academic leaders across the country.
From 2012-17 I served as the inaugural Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences.