The Interstitial Academy: Harvard’s Path through the Age of the University, 1780-1936

14 March 2011, 12:45 - 14:00


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress seminar series.  All welcome, no registration necessary.  Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

Dr Joel Isaac (Queen Mary, University of London)


In this paper, I trace the emergence of an interlocking matrix of research centres, newly established professional schools, seminars, and informal discussion groups, which flourished during the interwar years at Harvard University.  This “interstitial academy” existed in the uncertain spaces between Harvard’s established departments and disciplines, and it proved vital to the development of the human sciences in the United States.  I explain the formation of Harvard’s interstitial academy as the result of a long-term process of fragmentation and academic specialization at Harvard, which began in the early nineteenth century and accelerated after the Civil War as Harvard’s leaders responded to the university movement that swept across American higher education.  Harvard proved flexible enough to prosper in the changed academic environment, but the human sciences, in particular, were neglected and marginalized during this period.  This forced practitioners of these emerging fields into the interstitial spaces opened up by Harvard’s expansion during the nineteenth century.  This uncertain position made representatives of sociology, anthropology, psychology, business administration and neighbouring fields acutely aware of the (generally low) scientific status of their practices of research and teaching.  By the 1936 tercentenary of the founding the College, the interstitial academy had become the primary vehicle for legitimizing the human sciences at Harvard.

To access the Readings for the Work in Progress seminar, please contact Michelle Maciejewska.