Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Books in Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education occasionally rounds up new books in higher education. Here are some items of interest from the most recent roundup:


Jerry A. Jacobs, In Defense of Disciplines: Interdisciplinarity and Specialization in the Research University (University of Chicago Press, 2013). The Press explains:
Calls for closer connections among disciplines can be heard throughout the world of scholarly research, from major universities to the National Institutes of Health. In Defense of Disciplines presents a fresh and daring analysis of the argument surrounding interdisciplinarity. Challenging the belief that blurring the boundaries between traditional academic fields promotes more integrated research and effective teaching, Jerry Jacobs contends that the promise of interdisciplinarity is illusory and that critiques of established disciplines are often overstated and misplaced.

Drawing on diverse sources of data, Jacobs offers a new theory of liberal arts disciplines such as biology, economics, and history that identifies the organizational sources of their dynamism and breadth. Illustrating his thesis with a wide range of case studies including the diffusion of ideas between fields, the creation of interdisciplinary scholarly journals, and the rise of new fields that spin off from existing ones, Jacobs turns many of the criticisms of disciplines on their heads to mount a powerful defense of the enduring value of liberal arts disciplines. This will become one of the anchors of the case against interdisciplinarity for years to come.
Robin L. West, Teaching Law: Justice, Politics, and the Demands of Professionalism  (Cambridge University Press, 2013). From the Press:

Teaching Law reimagines law-school teaching and scholarship by going beyond crises now besetting the legal academy and examining deeper and longer-lasting challenges. The book argues that the legal academy has long neglected the needs to focus teaching and scholarship on the ideals of justice that law fitfully serves, the political origins of law, and the development of a respectful but critical relationship with the legal profession. This book suggests reforms to improve the quality of legal education and responds to concerns that law schools eschew the study of justice, rendering students amoralist; that law schools slight the political sources of law, particularly in legislative action; and that law schools have ignored the profession entirely. These areas of neglect have impoverished legal teaching and scholarship as the academy is refashioned in response to current financial exigencies, and addressing them is long overdue.
Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities (Oxford University Press, 2013). The Press describes the book as follows:
The Value of the Humanities provides a critical account of the principal arguments used to defend the value of the Humanities. The claims considered are: that the Humanities study the meaning-making practices of culture, and bring to their work a distinctive understanding of what constitutes knowledge and understanding; that, though useful to society in many ways, they remain laudably at odds with, or at a remove from, instrumental use value; that they contribute to human happiness; that they are a force for democracy; and that they are a good in themselves, to be valued 'for their own sake'. Engaging closely with contemporary literary and philosophical work in the field from the UK and US, Helen Small distinguishes between arguments that retain strong Victorian roots (Mill on happiness; Arnold on use value) and those that have developed or been substantially altered since. Unlike many works in this field, The Value of the Humanities is not a polemic or a manifesto. Its purpose is to explore the grounds for each argument, and to test its validity for the present day. Tough-minded, alert to changing historical conditions for argument and changing styles of rhetoric, it promises to sharpen the terms of the public debate. 

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