Skip to Content

Ian F. McNeely

Ian F. McNeely profile picture
  • Affiliation: faculty
  • Title: Professor of History
  • Additional Title: Executive Director, School of Global Studies and Languages
  • Phone: 541-346-4791
  • Office: 429 Friendly Hall
  • Office Hours: Email for link to signup sheet
  • Affiliated Departments: European Studies
  • Interests: German history, European history, world history, history of knowledge
  • Curriculum Vitae


As an historian of knowledge, I have always been drawn to “practical intellectuals”—thinkers who also do. Typically this leads me to study groups and individuals who found or reform institutions, whether by revamping public health provision, reconstructing the practices of political citizenship, or reinventing institutions of higher learning. Although I specialize in German history and European cultural history, I also have deep roots in global, comparative history and in historical sociology.

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 influential physicians and political reformers; in 2019, it appeared in Korean translation. 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 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 Each, we argue, has superseded its predecessors in fashioning entirely new rationales and practices for pursuing knowledge in response to society’s needs. Reinventing Knowledge has been translated into Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.

In other work, I have written about the Renaissance academies, the philosophical origins of the kindergarten, the Austrian-American management guru Peter Drucker, and what global linguistics tells us about the origins of the "Humboldtian research university."

My current book project centers on American higher education since 1970. It builds in part on my experiences as a 2016-17 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, during which I shadowed academic leaders across the country. I have also served in other administrative roles, including as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences and as Department Head of German and Scandinavian.

Courses I've taugnt include The Early Modern World, 1450-1850Modern Europe (The 18th Century)Cultural History of the EnlightenmentFreemasonry and Secret SocietiesScience in Nineteenth-Century EuropeReacting to the PastThe Quality of Life in Germany and ScandinaviaWhat is Socialism Anyway? A European View; and How Universities Work.

This year, I am hard at work helping to build UO's new School of Global Studies and Languages, launching in Fall 2021.