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Re: Enlightenment and the Future of Knowledge

Part One: The Tectonics of Disciplinarity (Clifford Siskin)

 This paper uses a new computational tool to explain the shape of modern knowledge. Our narrow-but-deep disciplines, I argue, emerged at the late 18th-century intersection of two of the dominant genres of Enlightenment: "system" and "history." I call the tool, designed by Mark Algee-Hewitt, "Tectonics," for the maps it produces resemble the plates that float on the surface of the earth. By visualizing the genres named on 18th-century title pages as tectonic plates, we can chart their interrelations at different historical moments and study what happens when they collide. As a Re:Enlightenment project, the paper will bring that knowledge from the past to bear upon the present. Tectonics allows us to map the relationship of our own period to disciplinarity—and asks us to anticipate a near future in which that ground will shift from under our feet.


Part Two: Preliminary data runs from the Concept Lab: Future Knowledge and the Architecture of Concepts (Peter de Bolla) 

Peter de Bolla will present some preliminary data that is currently being generated by the Concept Lab, a three year funded project that is uncovering the architecture of conceptual forms through digital enquiry. He will begin by setting out the key hypotheses of the lab and its initiating questions which have evolved from the account of concepts given in his book The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights (Fordham University Press, 2014). Having established the hypotheses and methodology of the project he will then invite the audience to contribute to a discussion of some of the preliminary data that has been generated by the code used in the Concept Lab. These data runs are hot off the press (or hot out of the code) so the intention is to use the resources gathered together at the event to speculate about the reasons for some of the curious features of conceptual forms the Lab is discovering. In the spirit of the Re:Enlightenment project, then, one should expect an experiment rather than a lecture which aims to include participation from the audience in forms other than Q&A.


Clifford Siskin is the Henry W. and Alfred A. Berg Professor of English and American Literature at New York University and the Director of The Re:Enlightenment Project and the North American Concept Lab. His subject is the interrelations of literary, social, and technological change. Links between past and present inform all of his work, from his sequencing of the genres of subjectivity (The Historicity of Romantic Discourse, Oxford) to his recovery of literature's role in the formation of the modern disciplines (The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain 1700-1830, Hopkins). He is also co-editor, with William Warner, of This Is Enlightenment, a volume that offers an answer to the question Kant made famous: What is Enlightenment? (Chicago, 2010). His latest monograph asks when and how the central genre of Enlightenment became the thing that we now love to blame: the SYSTEM: The Shaping of Modern Knowledge (MIT, 2016). Professor Siskin is also co-editor, with Anne Mellor, of the Palgrave-Macmillan monograph series in "Enlightenment, Romanticism and the Cultures of Print." He has been the George Delacorte Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, the A. C. Bradley Chair at the University of Glasgow, the Waynflete Lecturer at Magdalen College, Oxford, a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, and Chair of English at SUNY Stony Brook.

Peter de Bolla has been Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics since 2009. He has been a visiting Professor in Siegen, at Vanderbilt and New York University.  He is currently Chairman of the Faculty Board of English and Director of the Cambridge Concept Lab which is housed in the Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge at CRASSH.

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