Geoffrey HARPHAM

Literature, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University, United States

Fellowship : April to June 2017

Discipline(s) : Literature

Pays : United States

Research project : "The American Revolution in Education"

Geoffrey Harpham is working on a book-length project called The American Revolution in Education, which will describe the philosophical foundations and socio-political aspirations behind the historically unique system of education that arose in the United States after the end of the Second World War. This system – universal, general, and liberal — was developed not to meet the needs of the professions or the civil service, but to create a society of citizens capable of self-governance. It grew, in other words, out of a national self-understanding that included certain principles and aspirations. Central to the system was the need for citizens of a Constitutional democracy to be able to read and interpret for themselves written texts. The responsibility for disciplining the faculty of interpretation fell to the disciplines that became known as the Humanities, and particularly to the English Department. This account of the American system of education helps explain the distinctive character of “the humanities” in American universities, and the peculiar prominence in the American curriculum of the discipline of English.


Geoffrey Harpham is the Senior Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where he began teaching in 2015 after thirteen years as Director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. Among his many books are The Ascetic Imperative in Culture and Criticism(1992), Shadows of Ethics: Criticism and the Just Society (1999) and Language Alone: the Critical Fetish of Modernity (2002). In recent years he has been a prominent historian of the humanities, publishing The Humanities and the Dream of America in 2011. His current project tries to articulate the implied political and historical rationale behind the American educational system that emerged at the end of the Second World War

Major publications

HARPHAM, Geoffrey. On the Grotesque:  Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1982). 

HARPHAM, Geoffrey. Getting It Right:  Language, Literature, and Ethics (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1992)

HARPHAM, Geoffrey.  One of Us:  The Mastery of Joseph Conrad (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press 1996)

HARPHAM, Geoffrey.  The Character of Criticism (New York:  Routledge, 2006). 

HARPHAM, Geoffrey. “Finding Ourselves:  The Humanities as a Discipline,” American Literary History (Summer 2013), 1-26