Peter Meilaender, Houghton professor of political science, recently hosted a colloquium on the work of prominent 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt.
The colloquium was funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University. IHS, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., provides funding for undergraduate and graduate students across the country to investigate topics like intellectual diversity and individual liberty. Events like this colloquium allow undergraduates to explore these ideas and to eventually create “a future in which individuals are able to unleash their potential as they strive to build a more just, peaceful, and prosperous world.”
During the Houghton colloquium, Meilaender led 16 students from a wide range of disciplines in an informed discussion of Judgements on History and Historians, a volume of fragments from Burckhardt’s lectures. A foundational figure in the field of art and cultural history, Burckhardt turned a critical eye to the challenges facing liberal democratic and capitalist societies. The students’ conversation broached such diverse topics as the relationship between authority and stability in government and the value of historical study.
According to Meilaender, these types of extracurricular events are foundational to the liberal arts experience because they provide a space for students to enjoy learning from each other. He notes that, “Liberal arts education at its best and most rewarding occurs when I can get a group of interested and engaged students around a table and we can just talk about important books and important ideas, without any particular agenda or goal to be achieved, but simply in pursuit of greater understanding.”