October 19, 2010

First volume of Dewey’s class lectures completed

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Today, his lectures might be podcasts. But in his day, the best his students could do was to hire a stenographer.

The Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently finished volume one of “The Class Lectures of John Dewey,” forthcoming from InteLex Past Masters, the full text database humanities publisher. The first volume in the planned two-volume set is upward of 2,000 pages.

“This will open up research possibilities for institutions and individuals,” Larry Hickman, SIUC professor of philosophy and director of The Center for Dewey Studies, said. “These lecture notes provide a snapshot of Dewey in a new way, as he was thinking aloud.”

John Dewey (1859-1952) is one of America’s pre-eminent philosophers, and a champion of democracy, education, social reform and pragmatism. In a move that left other universities, including Columbia University, empty-handed, Delyte Morris bid for and acquired the Dewey papers during his tenure as University president. The papers include correspondence, Dewey’s library with marginalia -- and lecture notes.

The Center for Dewey Studies has, as part of its mission, made Dewey’s works and correspondence available, some through InteLex and also in print editions. Now the lectures will be available to philosophers and other scholars as well.

Like many university professors, Dewey did not reiterate assigned readings in his lectures -- his lectures were new material. Hickman explained that Dewey did not rely on notes when he addressed his classes. His lectures were extemporaneous. His students, realizing that without them there would be no written record of a great philosopher thinking while he was teaching and teaching while he was thinking, hired a stenographer to take and transcribe notes. The practice caught on, and transcribed notes are part of the Dewey Papers from his time at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and Columbia University.

Transcribing them for the world at large, Hickman said, was a three-year project.

For more information on the Center for Dewey Studies, visit www.siuc.edu/~deweyctr/.