November 04, 2011

Center for Dewey Studies marks 50th anniversary

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- It doesn’t look like the hub of international research.  It looks like a modest house on a residential street near a university.

The Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, located at 807 S. Oakland St. on property adjacent to the main campus, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  While some events will take place not only off campus but out-of-country, a reception at Morris Library will celebrate the half-century of scholarship and publication emanating from the little building on Oakland Street.

The reception takes place in the first floor rotunda of Morris Library from 4-6 p.m. on Nov. 9.  John Nicklow, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Kimberly Leonard, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, will give brief remarks, joining Larry Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies, in noting the place of the Center in the academic environment at SIU Carbondale.

Hickman, speaking via Skype from Azerbaijan where he was attending a Dewey-related conference, noted that the Center has published Dewey’s collected works, including his correspondence and also lecture notes from his students.  Some of these publications are electronic, some in print.

But who was John Dewey and why do we have a center to study him?  The thumbnail answer is that Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher, educational reformer and proponent of democracy as a homegrown movement rather than an exportable one.  SIU Carbondale has a center dedicated to the study of his life and works because former University President Delyte Morris acquired the majority of Dewey materials for the University, beating out such other hopefuls as Columbia University.

Besides publishing and making available electronically Dewey’s works, the SIU Carbondale Center for Dewey Studies helps establish sister centers for Dewey Studies at universities around the world.  Right now there are sister centers in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Japan, Turkey and China.  The SIU Carbondale center partners with these sister centers for conferences and other scholarly forums for discussion and investigation of Dewey’s works and ideas, but also partners with some of the centers for other activities, such as, in the case of the Chinese center, translating and publishing.

“SIU Carbondale has considerable representation worldwide through the Dewey centers,” Hickman said.  “Everywhere we go, when we talk about Dewey, we talk about education, democracy, and of course we talk about SIU Carbondale.”

Hickman noted the opportunities afforded by opening a scholarly center dedicated to the study of an American scholar and a proponent of democracy in venues not automatically inclined to welcome Western ideals or democratic principals.  His presence in Azerbaijan, for example, and the openness to Dewey scholarship there, is pure Dewey. 

“Azerbaijan is a former Soviet Republic,” Hickman noted.  “They are still trying to find their way, they are trying to determine what their version of democracy might look like.”

Dewey, he said, insisted that democracy could flourish only as a homegrown movement, not one imposed or imported.  As important as it is for nations exploring democracy to create a democracy of their own, it is important, Hickman said, for existing democracies to recognize other forms of functional democracy when they see them.

Before Azerbaijan, Hickman was in Argentina promoting another venue for Dewey studies.  Hickman travels frequently in support of Dewey scholarship and SIU Carbondale’s leading role in it.  But the Center attracts scholars from around the world.  Fulbright Scholars and students visit the Center from Italy, China and Turkey (to name the countries of origin of some recent scholarly visitors). 

Hickman doffed his metaphorical hat to Jo Ann Boydston, his predecessor and director of the center for more than half of its 50 years.  He said Boydston’s accomplishments extended beyond the publishing of Dewey’s “Collected Works” (37 volumes). 

“She was one of the first women to undertake an editorial project of this scope,” he said.  “She broke a lot of boundaries.”

To learn more about the Center for Dewey Studies at SIU Carbondale, visit!deweyctr/.