55 - Optional Interview with William Craig Rice

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55 - Optional Interview with William Craig Rice

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William Craig Rice is the Director

of the Division of Education Programs

at the National Endowment for the

Humanities, which sponsors seminars for

college and school teachers on subjects

as diverse as Shakespeare’s plays,

Mayan civilization and

the Civil Rights Movement.

Bill’s remarks today don’t represent

the views of the National Endowment for

the Humanities, but are simply his

as a teacher, writer and scholar.

Bill previously served as the 12th

president of Shimer College,

the Great Books college of Chicago and

he taught writing seminars for

many years at Harvard University.

He’s the author of public discourse and

academic inquiry and

of essays and

verse in cultural periodicals.

He was recently given a life

time achievement award for

contributions to the humanities

by Utah Valley University.

It’s a pleasure to speak

here today with Bill Rice.

Bill, I’ve seen you in action,

reading difficult material.

For example,

Adam Smith’s Rhetorical Discourses.

You seem to be able to synthesize and

chunk the essential ideas in difficult

reading material like that very easily.

Do you have any suggestions for

us mere mortals about how we can

do something a little similar.

I don’t know that I’m any better

at this than another reader would be,

because what I start

with is just noticing.

I was taught this a long time ago that

you don’t need to be ready to analyze or

make an argument or otherwise elaborate.

Just read and

when you notice something, mark it.

Just noticing is a neutral act,

it’s giving your own mind credit for

being alive.

That’s really important and I mark with

a little vertical sign on the margin.

Other people could use other methods,

but I think that’s the starting point.

Once you do that, you may notice that

you’re noticing the same thing over and

over again.

In which case, I call it a pattern an

original idea, but you look for patterns.

And that’s related to the idea of chunks,

except that I guess

chunks can also be sections of,

of argument that you begin to detect.

I find too is something that’s potentially

really dry, like rhetoric and written.

Basically, what we were reading was

lecture notes taken by someone else of

a man who’s mainly famous for

other things,

namely inventing the modern science of

economy, but also as a philosopher.

So, I found that the best thing to do

was to notice and watch for patterns.

Well, probably early on here,

we should define what do we really mean.

What, what are the humanities?

Don’t people get confused about this?

Well, they do.

People think it means humanitarian

as in humanitarian aid.

They think it means humanity

as in some great cause for

saving the world from ourselves.

And actually, the humanities

are a number of academic disciplines.

Philosophy, the study of religion,

literature, history, art history.

To some extent,

anthropology when it’s most

concerned with should we say,

the human nature.

Those are the fields and there,

there are others that creep in,

classics certainly, archeology.

They’re actually called the humanities,

because what happened was when

the fields were being divided,

you had the natural sciences,

like physics and astronomy and chemistry.

And then you had the social sciences,

the hard kind of social sciences,

like psychology, sociology.

And when they were done with those that,

everything that was left

was called the humanities.

So, it was a process of elimination and

they got left on the table.

They’re, it, that’s the definition, but

it’s strange, because people don’t get it.

Similarly, people often don’t

understand the term liberal arts.

They are, some people,

I remember one fellow saying to me.

Well, what about conservative arts?

And, you know, with liberal education,

what about conservative education?

You get, people understand the basic,

ter, misunderstand the basic terms.

Perhaps, because thy

haven’t been taught them.

It’s not deliberate.

But we’re saddled with terms

that are unfortunate in a way,

because people don’t understand them.

Well, good approaches to learning,

often involve transfer from one field,

for example, mathematics to another field,

like music or language.

But each field has its

own special challenges.

Are there approaches that you reco,

would recommend that are applicable,

particularly applicable for

the humanities?

Yes.

One broad point is that in chemistry.

Although in the theoretical realm,

there are lots of ambiguities and

uncertainties among those who

are doing pioneering work.

For the, for a large part, for those

of us who are studying at a relatively

introductory or intermediate level

there are answers to be arrived at

through methods that are,

will help illuminate how a field works.

This will be true in chemistry or

astronomy.

There are measurements to be taken.

There are all kinds of re,

reasonably objective,

repeatable exercises that

determine what knowledge is.

And this isn’t, I don’t mean to

over simplify the sciences, but

that’s broadly true and

it’s not broadly true in the humanities,

which are are concerned with

questions more than with answers.

You have to be interested and

tolerant of at least ambiguity

the idea that a question

remains unsolved for

pretty much the entirety of human history

or at least of recent human history.

So, it’s important to understand

that controversies aren’t settled in

the humanities.

They’re more likely simply

to be raised and explored.

That’s the, those are the broad brush

the broad brush need you have in the,

in humanities when you’re approaching

it particularly at the beginning.

That you’re not striving for a

direct, complete, final answer.

This is hard for students who have been

trained to take exams and get, you know,

get to the right answers by whatever,

by whatever means they can.

Instead in the humanities, what you

admire in in the work of someone who’s

just figuring things out, it’s a kind

of openness to contrary evidence.

That seems to me broadly, the way to go.

As to the specific fields there

are lots of sub-que, sub,

sub-questions or, or

second order problems to explore.

But broadly speaking in the humanities,

it’s about tolerance of ambiguity.

And at a certain point, a real love

of ambiguity, which can of course,

become quite frustrating for people.

[LAUGH] Because you never feel like

you’re getting an answer from this guy at

the front of the class or wherever.

That’s true.

That I think that’s so true and it’s such

a different way of looking at things

than we, for example, in engineering and

how we look at things.

But I think actually, both approaches

can be so interesting and useful.

And I think for, for engineers and

for those in humanities,

sort of getting an understanding and

a tolerance of both of our

perspectives is probably worth while.

Students in the humanities, sometimes

complain that they’re expected to make

arguments, but

they don’t have anything to say.

Mm-hm.

So, it’s not that they don’t care,

they do the reading.

They actually participate

in all the discussions.

They wanna be involved, it’s just they

can’t come up with a position to defend.

So what advice would you

give in this circumstance?

Well, [LAUGH] I was in that

position myself for many years.

I thought it was borderline preposterous

to call on me to have anything to say or

to ask me to write a, an eight or

ten or twelve or twenty page papers

when I really hadn’t read enough to

have anything legitimate to say.

I was I found this to be one of

the problems in classroom education and

perhaps one of the ways in which

online education could begin

to untangle a problem of the,

the given time in a semester.

So I remember, again and again, feeling

like the best thing I could do would be

was to read and to take notes, which I

think is absolutely essential, by the way.

If you, you have to read and

be content with being alone.

We talk a lot about group work,

but a lot of it’s solo.

Reading and taking notes.

In any case, back to the question.

I found that I was in again and

again faced with a problem

of finding something to say.

So what I, the advice I give is ask for,

if you don’t find,

conflicting interpretations

of the thing you’re studying.

It might be two scholars who disagree

on what Machiavelli meant when he said,

the prince should be more concerned about

being feared than about being loved.

People different, differ on that and

authorities differ.

If you can, if you don’t find that in

the materials that you’re assigned

as it were seek them out.

What are the, what are the flash points?

Where are the major points of contention?

And instead of thinking, well,

I agree with this side or the other side,

instead say gee.

How is this argument a stronger

argument than another?

Not whether it’s right or not,

but whether it’s stronger.

It’s who has the better evidence.

Who is pointing to evidence

that is harder to understand?

Who’s taking on the more

difficult questions?

That’s the first thing that I

would recommend is, is looking for

conflicting interpretations.

Another is to look at,

particularly when you’re studying

what we call a primary source.

I would cite

Mary Wollstonecraft’s work on,

on the in the late 18th century

on the education of women or

Thomas Jefferson’s statute for

religious freedom in Virginia.

Reading that,

you feel a real rhetorical power.

These people are making an argument.

What are they arguing against?

It’s not often clear in the given

text what the argument is.

Who, who, who and what they’re aiming at?

And if you can read carefully, sometimes

you can make a, what we ca, inference.

Because Jefferson is so

concerned about the government giving

special treatment to members

of the Anglican Church.

What we, well, why was that an issue?

It prompts one to want to know more.

So, if you have the rhetorical

flashpoints in view,

you can then ask questions

of an objective nature.

What was it that got Wollstonecraft or

Jefferson or anyone else worked up?

What was it that got

Machiavelli worked up?

Those are, those are what questions and

they send you back into

historical information.

So those are some of the ways I

would approach the problem of having

nothing to say.

But in the end, I wish we had a system

of education that was described

to me by young woman I knew who had gone

to an English University, Cambridge.

And she, I said, how did you get to be so

knowledgeable and such a good writer?

And so careful in your, in your thinking.

As you said, well, all the way through

four years as an undergraduate,

I was told I had to write summaries.

Summary, given an article,

write a summary.

One page, one page, one page.

Pracies, they called them over there.

That was hugely helpful to her.

She wasn’t asked to come up with something

of her own to say, she was asked

to explain what other people had said and

that was a real revelation to me.

And then from then on, when I was in

the classroom I would assign summaries.

Because It wasn’t,

it was something you could do differently,

not all summaries had to be the same, but

you would learn the material that way

without having to be invested in

whether you had an argument to make.

Understanding other’s thinking actually

can open up one’s own thinking and

my Dr. Vater Richard Marius

the director of writing at Harvard

used to say, encourage your students

not so much to be in, you know,

original thinkers, but to find their

thinking in the thinking of others.

That’s okay.

That’s what, really what scholarship and

learning and humanity is, is about.

It’s about standing on the shoulders

of others in order to understand,

perhaps a little bit better.

I know that when I’m doing writing,

I often,

I think of writing as something I do to

help me better understand my own thoughts.

Mm-hm.

And

when I’m beginning to write something,

I’m looking at the thoughts of others.

But it’s, it’s what I start trying to

struggle with putting words in the paper

myself that I start to

understand my own words.

But then observation of the woman that

you knew about writing summaries,

that’s such an exquisite

approach to learning.

Because it, it helps neurally

in code in a small chunk.

Mm-hm.

What the main ideas are and

that actually does really help you to

better understand your own thoughts.

And another thing I just

have to bring up is that I,

I very much admire your,

your thought in relation to it,

it is important to work alone sometimes.

Yeah.

And we do have this enormous emphasis.

I mean, there’s,

there are trends in education, in fads-

Mm-hm.

So forth and they go in and out.

One of the current fads is

to do a lot of group work.

Right.

Mm-hm.

and I, I emphasize that myself and

I think there’s value in it.

But also too much group work and

you start to think like other people,

instead of-

Mm-hm.

Thinking independently.

Yeah.

And part of what I

think we value in western society,

in modern society is this idea to think

more independently as well as to

understand the opinions of others.

Mm-hm.

So, anyway, with that,

what hinders students most from

learning in the humanities?

Well, you know,

I think it gets back to this problem

of being comfortable with ambiguity.

A feeling that there is some way

of understanding that, that,

that they haven’t got yet.

And that the teacher has and

is in a very frustrating way,

insisting they find for themselves.

That I think is, is,

is a psychological level and

at a level of interaction certainly

in a classroom though, less so

online where one is working

primarily in the solo context.

The another problem, though is that what

we call discipline-specific learning.

It’s not the same to play chess and

play baseball to to,

to do many different things in life.

To cook well.

To To make furniture.

Not all skills are really transferable.

It’s, there’s discipline

specific understanding.

And, in a,

it, there’s a certain kind of reasoning

that takes place with historians.

They go into archives, they find

the a rare set of letters between a,

an early Nobel Prize winner and

his editor and they look into that and

they find all kinds of issues of

the day were boiling right beneath.

These letters have, have remarks

on the outbreak of World War I

that are very hard to understand and

that to a historian is fascinating.

Something distant, archival.

It takes a certain kind of thinking,

what was it that was bothering people?

What, what were the arguments

that are not being made?

What inferences can we make from a,

an old source that nobody’s

looked at in a long time?

That’s what historical

reasoning is partly about.

It’s about other things as well.

In in, in other fields,

say, take art history,

you have the notion of building on,

on achievements.

The discovery of ways

of accurately depicting

perspective which occurred

in the 15th century.

That builds, that then builds to other

achievements some achievements in the arts

were really, really advanced in the

classical era, in sculpture the depiction,

accurate depiction of the human body is

recovered later on in the renaissance.

So there’s a notion of building on,

on previous achievements.

That’s a, a way of understanding that

is particularly common in our history.

Where it’s breakthrough,

after breakthrough, after breakthrough.

Getting up finally to the influence of

African sculpture on on European artists,

in, in the,

at the turn of the last century.

And, and with Cubism.

So, these are ways of understanding

that are specific to the disciplines.

Anthropologists look at

topics like marriage or,

exchange, or or

food prohibitions in very different

from the ways that a that, that,

that we typically look at.

So they have a broad view of all kinds of

human variations, and literary scholars

are probably those who are most pursuant

who pursued the ambiguities of,

of, of, of language most

energetically because poetry and

novels depend on multiple meanings,

multiple layers of interpretation.

And, none of them ab, absolutely certain.

Some of them probably wrong but that’s

been an issue in the field for some time.

So, it’s, I would say the disciplines

have their own ways and

those are frustrating because

people want to understand

a given field coming in with what

they already have from another field.

In your materials which I thought were so

helpful, the eye of Einstellung.

You come in to a problem with

mental equipment that solved

the last problem that you solved and

it doesn’t work.

For example, you could look at history.

Partly eh,

almost any historical phenomenon from

the point of view of competition.

But if you take the,

the lens of competition to

other subjects it doesn’t work.

You can take chronology and

it doesn’t always work.

There, so, it seems to me those are some

of the things that stand between a person

studying humanities for, for the first

time, or for the first time in a while.

And, and a feeling of accomplishment.

Mm-hm.

So one thing that,

that surprises me sometimes,

is I so love people who come with a,

a background in the humanities

because of their tolerance of ambiguity,

except for one thing.

They often are intolerant

of lack of ambiguity.

Hm.

And they can think that people

with a scientific training or

an engineering training, are simplistic

because things are so straightforward.

And of course that’s, that sort of

putting their own lens in their own

stereotypes on what’s going on in those

fields because often there’s much more

ambiguity and divergence of approaches,

that might be a imagined.

But also, I think sometimes

lack of ambiguity is okay.

If something is clear,

if 2 plus 2 actually does equal 4.

You know, that’s not necessarily a bad

thing to have that lack of, ambiguity.

So, anyway, the,

there’s just such differences.

Well, I, that’s actually, particularly

a problem, that the frustration is a,

is a very understandable one.

I think it’s most, most felt in

the field of the study of literature.

They’re trends that have affected

teaching for the last 30, 40 years.

That, say an effect that, or at least

that are understood, whether correctly or

not, to say that you are,

that an interpretation can, is, that all

interpretations have some validity because

they occurred in an individual mind.

Well, sometimes things are flat out wrong.

And, we, in the Humanities,

we have not been

sufficiently attentive to the,

the idea of validity.

Uh-huh.

Of, of implausibility,

of being wrong about a given thing.

There are sometimes interpretations that

are mounted, that are flat out just wrong.

And claims made that are indefensible

that wind up falling

apart including some great thinkers.

Sigmund Freud was caught out in his

interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci.

He relied on the mistranslation of

the key word in the text, and his entire

interpretation was built on that, on that

one flaw, and once that flaw was revealed.

The, the, it was a house of cards.

Similarly, I understand,

though I don’t know this case as well,

that, Martin Heidegger was called

out on a misinterpretation of

a painting by Van Gogh of, shoes.

And in both cases the man who called

them out was an art historian

who knew the material a lot better.

So, humanists tend to get into a lot

of trouble when they try to be

interdisciplinary.

Sometimes they do it and

do it brilliantly.

But, one thing about scientists that I so

admire, is that they

have tremendous respect for the

limitations of their own understanding.

This, this is built into lab work.

To the careful pursuit of conclusions,

some of which don’t work out.

In fact, a lot of which don’t work out.

Very comfortable with that.

Because when you find out you’re wrong,

in a,

in an experiment in a,

in sequencing DNA that is knowledge.

That’s a contribution.

That this avenue doesn’t go anywhere.

That it leads to an, you know,

that it was unproductive.

I haven’t seen that kind of recognition

in the humanities very much.

Right.

Well, one thing I sometimes notice is that

there is this tendency for

moral relativism that can arise and

The way that is found out of that is sort

of, there’s a happy medium to everything.

Mm-hm.

And so I always,

I kinda think sometimes.

Well is there a happy

medium then to genocide?

I mean if, you know, if no genocide and

then there’s genocide does that mean that

there’s a happy medium in where, you know?

Yeah.

Which is, I,

I think all of these things,

sometimes an engineering approach or

a more scientific approach to

these kinds of issues where,

where you are able to make a decision as

to whether something is right or wrong.

It can be helpful.

Well, absolutely.

And I’ll even go one better, which is that

it’s not the case that creativity and

imagination are the primary

primarily owned by the humanities.

I don’t believe that for a minute.

The, a scientist is testing implausible

ideas and really testing them.

And there, the creativity that’s

gone into computer science,

into modern physics,

just to take the most staggering example.

There, there’s tremendous energy and

imagination coupled with

discipline in the sciences.

So, when people, and

when people talk about philoso,

the humanities taking on

the moral dimensions of existence.

No.

Scientists and

others do this all the time as well.

I, I think it’s very unhelpful for

humanists to claim that

they have some special access to a,

a moral high ground.

This is probably not true, and certainly

unhelpful in advancing the cause and

making people want to study literature or

history or philosophy or,

or comparative religion which

is something we really need now.

Right.

We need to understand other religions,

because we’re mixing up in

ways we never did before.

Right, right.

And, and that’s the most pressing

of our needs, it seems to me.

And it’s it’s one thing

the humanities scholars and

the humanities texts and so

forth can really help people do.

Let me ask you this.

So, what about the use of online

resources like Wikipedia?

Do you have any sorts of advice for

us there?

Well the jury is still out on all of

that, but it’s, what I understand is that

in classes, whether online or

in person people are often discouraged

from using those sources, unless they

go through some kind of vetting.

On the one hand, if you look up

a Wikipedia entry for something that is

fairly remote, and not very controversial,

or not controversial at all.

Such as navigable rivers in Africa or

the history of a given plant,

its migration across across the globe,

historically.

Which has happened, is one of

the interesting things is botany.

There you might get a pretty reliable

case in the, in the Wikipedia entry.

But if you look up something like

the Kennedy assassination, or

the Reagan administration

policy in Central America.

Or any number of other

subjects of great controversy.

Then the Wikipedia entry is a kind,

is a battleground.

And that may be interesting to look at,

but if you’re looking for information you,

you’re in, you get into trouble.

It used to be that you could say

if any site has a .edu after it,

that that was a good sign,

but th, that seems to me not,

not something you’d

wanna take to the bank.

In many cases a .edu is a good sign,

but there are some subjects on which,

there are, you know, fringe elements,

within academia that present

as objective ideas or information that,

that others would challenge.

Main thing is to, that I happen to know

that certain things are controversial,

and you happen to know that.

But a person starting out, or kind of

midway through the study of a given

subject, can’t be expected to

know what’s controversial.

So you’re really out at

sea with online resources.

This was true of print

resources in the past as well.

Things like comments on online

sources sometimes can reveal

a controversy embedded.

If you have an, an entry in,

in a blog with 264 comments

following it, you can bet that

something in there ticked people off.

And that there’s something at, in dispute.

So I, those are, those are, I think

the problem is not, is not resolved yet.

We don’t have a Good Housekeeping seal.

And we have some mater,

some sites from learned societies that

are probably more reliable than others,

but many of them are restricted access.

So you don’t really know.

You have to be a paid up member

in order to get access to what

other scholars have vetted.

In, and in that case you know,

that’s not much help to a person out

there trying to learn on his or her own.

I wish I could give a more,

a more encouraging answer.

I think things are just working out.

The great news on online resources

is that if you’re interested in a,

well, I, I read a lot of poetry, and

I think of a particular author and

I hear about a poem, I look,

and there it is online.

Now, I will say though, typos slip in.

The additions of different poets

sometimes are at variance and

sometimes it really matters.

Even a comma in a Robert Frost poem

can be a matter of considerable

contention among those who

are devoted to Robert Frost.

And which edition of Leaves of Grass

by Walt Whitman you’re looking at can

be a matter of great concern.

So, even there, there’s a sloppiness

to a lot of what’s online.

And an inattentiveness to things like

accidentals, and, and formatting.

And in a lot of cases really quite hideous

formatting that are hard on the eyes,

and doesn’t make one want to read.

So there are many, many issues at stake.

Again, I wish I could say something

more emphatically encouraging, but

it’s what we have.

It’s all, in many ways, all to the good,

because things are available now that were

just required a trip to

a major library in the past.

Well, I think one thing that’s of

interest for people is, Daniel Kahneman,

the Nobel Prize winning psychologist has,

he has made the point that

there’s our fast thinking system and

our slow thinking system.

And our fast thinking is

emotionally based, and so

things like empathy and sympathy for

others that, that’s very fast.

Hm.

And logical thinking is slow,

much slower.

Hm.

So often what very intelligent people

can do is they can leap to conclusions

based on their fast thinking systems.

And once they have leapt to those kinds

of conclusions, Einstellung kicks in.

They already think they have the answer,

and so

they’re not gonna think about

more rational considerations.

Hm.

So it,

my own research area involves how

altruism, well meaning efforts,

can go awry, and

actually end up harming people.

Mm-hm.

So sometimes, I think,

in these Wikipedia articles people

will go in, and they’ll edit, and

they’ll They’ll rewrite directly

counter to what is known in the facts.

But they do that because they really

think they’re helping others.

Those fast systems have kicked in and

you overwritten everything else,

and so,

facts kind of can go out the wayside.

Mmhm.

And I find that whole

circumstance very interesting.

But the one really interesting thing about

that is you can have a really smart person

who jumps to conclusions.

They think they’ve got the right

answer for helping people.

And then other people

can jump on board and

you can think hey look there’s

a large group of people.

They must all be right

Mmhm.

There couldn’t be that many

people that’re being wrong.

But actually that herd can go right along

doing things that can be very harmful for

people.

And, we saw that with national

socialism in in Nazi Germany.

Right.

We saw that in Communist Russia with

Stalin.

We, we’ve, so large groups of people can

become involved in these kinds of things.

Well, I have to ask you though.

You are probably one of the most

wide-read just interested in new

things people I’ve ever met.

Oh.

So what kinds of things do you, do you

do and what could you say to our viewers

about how to kind of keep interested and,

and keep your love of learning alive.

Any, any final thoughts on that.

Thank you, I don’t, I don’t think of

myself as having that much of a range but

I, I, I do read what I feel like reading.

And, for better or worse,

I seem to have continued to do it.

It hasn’t always been

professionally to my advantage but

I did it anyway because I just felt

that to do anything else would have

bored me or turned me into

something I didn’t want to be.

You create your own world.

And if you get to choose what’s in it,

you have a,

only yourself to blame if things don’t

work out, but you also have your,

you have some self, sense of self

awareness that comes from, making choices.

I think people should

trust what interests them.

I don’t mean just follow your dreams but,

but to be disciplined about the dream.

To choose books or ideas,

particularly those that aren’t,

don’t represent too deep a commitment.

Try something short before try,

trying something long.

Guess that’s why I’m attracted to poetry,

you can come back and re-read and

re-read but it’s not,

they’re not that long, most poems.

Artwork’s the same thing, you can keep

coming back to look at something or

a particular event if it’s recorded

on YouTube or on a, or, or

a speech, something that’s,

that’s, in effect,

not quite memorizable, but easy to

commit in a lot of detail to memory.

Stock your memory.

Because when you’re bored if you’re

waiting in line to get on an airplane or

you’re waiting for

your car to be fixed and

you have a flat tire and,

you know, or whatever.

If you have your mind well

stocked with fairly specific, and

tight, and coherent things,

it makes life a lot easier to get through.

And is a source of enter, you know,

entertainment, or even of passion.

I think reading is the main way to,

where I happen to have gotten.

But it wasn’t always voluminous,

but rather selective

according to my interests.

A lot of people in America,

thanks to technology,

have a great commitment and love of music.

It wasn’t possible a, a hundred years ago.

You, you didn’t have phonograph, well, you

had phonographs just be coming out and,

you know, the recorded sound

technology was making some progress.

But a hundred years before that you,

you had to listen to music being played.

It had a great power in human life

back then, but now it’s everywhere.

It’s annoyingly everywhere, actually.

But we, if you get to choose it, again,

if you choose your music you can.

You can choose other things in life.

And it’s all really readily available

thanks again to the magnificent

opportunities.

The wealth of what’s on the web.

But with music you take that and I happen

to be very important to me and so I think

one of the good things that’s happened

is we have lots of good biographies.

Identify ideas and history and

other things that concern you with

the lives and achievements of individuals.

Goes against something of the grain and

where we think, that, that, you know,

in some academic circles

the individual has been demoted and

that what we’re really just

dealing with is social forces.

And there are social forces behind

the music of Johann Sebastian Bach or

of Ludwig von Beethoven or Friedrich

Chopin, those happen to be my mainstays.

There are certainly social

forces behind the Beatles.

Or between,

behind the early Joan Baez or Bob Dylan,

others that are important to me,

personally.

Those are, so

there you have biographies available.

Who are these people?

You get curious about

the individuals who made history.

It, there, there are you know,

the lives of individuals can inspire us,

can warn us,

can give us, permission to seek.

I, that for me is the great

thing about the humanities,

is that, that we do get biography.

We also get biographies

of great scientists.

I think of Walter Isaacson’s

biographies of great scientists and

those are, those are wonderful

humanistic texts that he created for us.

Absolutely.

And

they’re many others that are out there.

John Elliot Gardiner has

a new biography of Bach.

There always seems to be another

book about Beethoven every year.

And so whatever it is that inspires you.

Even tragic figures like Van Gogh.

Or William Blake, or many others.

People who’ve, who led less than

happy lives are wonderful to read,

and, and to know.

I think getting to know people in

history is a wonderful experience.

I just, not long ago, read,

read Sam Gwynne’s Empire of

the Summer Moon, about the Comanches.

Now, I’m, so

that made me a fan of Sam Gwynne and

now I’m reading his Stonewall Jackson and.

Wow.

I just love, I’m a biography junkie.

Yeah.

And I’m always surprised at how I can

be inspired by both the triumphs and

the mistakes of people in history.

I think it lends great examples for

all of us.

On the matter of biography,

if I could just add a little squib here.

Autobiography is another great source.

And, I, for me,

one of the most important books I ever

read was the first thing that was assigned

to me in my first college course was

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

And he talked a little bit

about teaching and music.

He was a music teacher.

And he said he didn’t really

know anything about music but

he knew he could stay one

lesson ahead of his students.

And I thought now, that’s inspired,

maybe I should be a teacher.

There was my, my invitation.

And I think reading autobiography

can encourage students and

people ta, in classes and, and

people doing online courses.

In writing their own.

Write a memoir.

What was it about that person that who

just died who was important in your life.

Write about him.

What about the person who’s, who’s, whom

you know has, had troubles in life and

seems to be making, making,

making things go well.

What is it.

It can be private.

But I think that, that autobiography

leads to memoir and this can be again for

personal private consumption and

it can turn into more than that.

So that’s another, again,

something that of course scientists

have written autobiographies.

Again nothing special about

the humanities here except it

seems to have landed in our territory.

[LAUGH] Yes.

Exactly.

[LAUGH]

Well thank you so much again.

Thank you.

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