Ian F. McNeely
As an historian of knowledge, I have always been drawn to “practical intellectuals”—thinkers who also do, whether by reforming public health provision, reconstructing civil society, or reinventing institutions of higher learning. Although I specialize in German history and European cultural history, I also have deep roots in global, comparative history and in historical sociology.
My first two books examined practical intellectuals from within the framework of German history. One of them, "Medicine on a Grand Scale": Rudolf Virchow, Liberalism, and the Public Health, was a short study of one of the nineteenth century's most influential physicians and political reformers; in 2019, it appeared in Korean translation. The other, The Emancipation of Writing: German Civil Society in the Making, 1790s-1820s, analyzed the machinations of powerful local scribes (Schreiber) who participated in the profound civic and political transformation of southwestern Germany after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions.
With Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet, coauthored with my wife and colleague Lisa Wolverton, I turned squarely to the comparative, long-term study of intellectuals and knowledge systems. The book chronicles the six institutions that have fueled the quest for knowledge in the Western tradition from ancient times to the present day: the library, the monastery, the university, the Republic of Letters, the disciplines, and the laboratory. Each, we argue, has superseded its predecessors in fashioning entirely new rationales and practices for pursuing knowledge in response to society’s needs. Reinventing Knowledge has been translated into Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.
In other work, I have written about the Renaissance academies, the philosophical origins of the kindergarten, Wilhelm von Humboldt's global study of languages, and the Austrian-American management guru Peter Drucker.
My current research centers on American higher education since 1970. It builds in part on my experiences as a 2016-17 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, during which I shadowed academic leaders across the country.
For a roster of courses I teach and have taught, please follow this link.