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The Higher Learning in America: The Annotated Edition

, 264 pages

6 halftones

April 2015



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The Higher Learning in America: The Annotated Edition

A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men

Since its publication in 1918, Thorstein Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America has remained a text that every serious student of the American university must confront. Intellectual historian Richard Teichgraeber brings us the first scholarly edition of Veblen’s classic, thoroughly edited, annotated, and indexed. An extensive introduction discusses the book’s composition and publishing history, Veblen’s debts to earlier critics of the American university, and the place of The Higher Learning in America in current debates about the American university.

Veblen’s insights into the American university system at the outset of the twentieth century are as provocative today as they were when first published. Insisting that institutions of higher learning should be dedicated solely to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, he urged American universities to abandon commitments to extraneous pursuits such as athletics, community service, and vocational education. He also believed that the corporate model of governance—with university boards of trustees dominated by well-to-do businessmen and university presidents who functioned essentially as businessmen in academic dress—mandated unsavory techniques of salesmanship and self-promotion that threatened to reduce institutions of higher learning to the status of competitive business enterprises.

With a detailed chronology, suggested readings, and comprehensive notes identifying events, individuals, and institutions to which Veblen alludes, this volume is sure to become the standard teaching text for Veblen’s classic work and an invaluable resource for students of both the history and the current workings of the American university.

One of the most influential social scientists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) wrote numerous books, including The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions and The Instinct of Workmanship: And the State of the Industrial Arts. Richard F. Teichgraeber III is a professor of history at Tulane University. He is the author of Building Culture: Studies in the Intellectual History of Industrializing America, 18671910 and Sublime Thoughts/Penny Wisdom: Situating Emerson and Thoreau in the American Market.

"Almost a century ago Thorstein Veblen analyzed how Big Business got down to the business of higher education in America. We are fortunate today to have Richard Teichgraeber’s rediscovery of this classic work, enhanced by his keen annotations that help explain the wicked satire of this trenchant social critic."

"The republication of Thorstein Veblen's The Higher Learning in America in this new annotated edition—which sorts out the allusions and citations in Veblen's highly allusive writing—will be a tremendous help to scholars, students, and general readers alike."

"Reading The Higher Learning in America is an exercise in going back to the future. The dreary past of higher education described by Veblen in 1918 seems distressingly similar to its increasingly bleak future under the command of a new generation of leaders once mocked by Veblen as 'captains of erudition.' This splendid annotated edition will introduce a new generation of readers to Veblen's insightful work."

"Richard Teichgraeber’s new edition of Veblen’s classic tract on the early twentieth-century American research university is a remarkable achievement. His extended Introduction not only explores the book’s complex genesis and various levels of meaning, but it raises a host of important issues that confirm Veblen’s continued timeliness as a critic and analyst of higher education. Teichgraeber fully restores Veblen’s work to the academic culture and social values of the era in which it was written, but he also uses The Higher Learning to provide an erudite commentary on the state of the universities a hundred years later."

"Thorstein Veblen's odd, energetic, and idiosyncratic classic The Higher Learning in America, is more pertinent today than it was when it was published over a century ago. This new edition, with Teichgraeber's splendid introduction and deeply informative notes, reintroduce this book into debates it anticipated and still illuminates."

"Richard F. Teichgraeber III (a professor of history at Tulane University), has prepared what’s bound to remain the standard edition of the text for a long time to come. His extensive yet unobtrusive notes 'identify—when identification proved possible—events, institutions, persons and publications alluded to or mentioned,' and he glosses the literary quotations and biblical references embedded in Veblen’s wild and sometimes woolly prose. The timeline of Veblen’s life and the recommended-readings list benefit from the past three decades of Veblen scholarship."

"A coherent and bracing critique of higher education at the dawn of the twentieth century."

"A must read for any student of higher education... The book is 100 years old, but the arguments made are regularly heard on 21st century college campuses. Teichgraeber and Johns Hopkins are to be congratulated for bringing this book back to people's attention, and every academic library should have a copy."

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