January 15, 2014

January 15, 2014: The December 2013 issue of History of Universities, published by Oxford University Press, pays tribute to Berkeley emeritus professor of history and former CSHE director Sheldon Rothblatt.  The festschrift of articles by nine noted higher-education scholars honors his “truly monumental” contributions over the past fifty years “to the study of higher learning, of higher education, and to the history of universities,” write Roy Lowe and Yoshihito Yasuhara.  “During this period there has been hardly any debate in these fields which has not owed something to him.  His work has repeatedly challenged those around him to reconsider and to redefine their inquiries.”

Rothblatt’s first book, The Revolution of the Dons, was recognized on its publication in 1968 as a groundbreaking examination of the interplay between social change and institutional tradition in Victorian-era Cambridge University.   It was followed by a series of illuminating studies on universities in relation to society and culture, the history of campus planning and architecture,  and the history of liberal learning in the US, Britain, and Continental Europe, among many other seminal topics.  The Modern University and its Discontents (1997), for example, shows Rothblatt’s ease and authority in moving between elite nineteenth-century conceptions of the nature of the university and their twentieth-century transformations in British and American mass higher education.  Guy Neave includes him among the “California Four”—with Clark Kerr, Martin Trow, and Bob Clark—without whom “the study of Higher Education, irrespective of the disciplinary identity to which we lay claim, would be inconceivable in its present form.”  

More recently, Rothblatt has turned to the subject of moral ambiguity—“a tendency to view all polemical viewpoints or policies as equivalent in value and accuracy”—and its influence in the modern university on both sides of the Atlantic.   The volume concludes with a review essay by Rothblatt in which he traces the origins of this theme and its relevance to three recent books (two dealing specifically with the University of California) on university responses to important social and political issues.   

 “The Modern University: Past, Present and Prospects:  Essays in Honour of Sheldon Rothblatt,” History of Universities, XXVII, 1, 2013, Oxford University Press.