Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Moglen chosen for prestigious IAS fellowship

Seth Moglen

Seth Moglen, associate professor of English, has been elected to a year-long residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry.

Moglen will spend the 2009-2010 academic year at IAS as a visiting fellow in the School of Social Science, which takes as its mission the analysis of societies and social change, and is devoted to a multi-disciplinary, comparative and international approach to social research.

Each year, the school invites 15 to 20 visiting scholars with various perspectives to examine historical and contemporary problems. Past and present IAS faculty members include Albert Einstein, mathematician Kurt Gödel, German art historian Erwin Panofsky, cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, and feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott.

Moglen, an interdisciplinary scholar of American literature and politics, has spent much of the last 20 years studying emancipatory political movements in the United States, including the early 20th-century Left and 19th- and 20th-century African American radicalism. His scholarship has explored the ways in which modern literary forms have enabled writers to map oppressive social structures and to express egalitarian political aspirations. In 2007, Moglen published Mourning Modernity: Literary Modernism and the Injuries of American Capitalism, which argues that American literary modernism is, at its heart, an effort to mourn for the injuries inflicted by modern capitalism.

Moglen’s fellowship also stems from his work with the South Side Initiative (SSI), which he co-founded in April 2007 with associate professor of history John Pettegrew. SSI brings together Lehigh faculty, students and staff with Bethlehem residents, government officials and community leaders in order to foster university-community collaboration and informed dialogue about the future of the city.

Through public lectures, classes, research and creative projects, conferences and public forums, SSI has focused the university’s intellectual resources on the most pressing problems facing the city during the current period of transformation, which has been catalyzed by the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel site. “All of SSI’s activities,” Moglen explains, “share a common aim: to foster a vibrant and inclusive democratic process through which the people of the city can exercise some measure of control over the transformation of our community.”

An amazing opportunity

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to pursue my current research in such a stimulating intellectual environment,” says Moglen of the fellowship. “I’m also pleased that the Institute for Advanced Study has shown such interest in the collective work of the South Side Initiative and has given me this chance to share our experiment in Bethlehem with scholars engaged in similar work elsewhere in the U.S. and internationally.”

Moglen’s residency will be two-fold: to undertake related research and to contribute to broader conversations among IAS faculty and other visiting scholars.

During his fellowship, Moglen will work on a book project, currently titled Bethlehem: American Utopia, American Tragedy. It will explore the evolving structures of power that have shaped the city, from its Moravian founding to the present, as well as the egalitarian and democratic aspirations that have emerged in response to them.

Moglen will employ an experimental technique in order to trace the long arc of Bethlehem’s 250-year history, drawing on the formal practices of the modernist writers he has discussed in his recent literary scholarship. He’ll create an “historical mosaic,” consisting of a chronological series of highly compressed vignettes, each of which will present a moment in the city’s history, a single episode encapsulating a particular configuration of power-relations and utopian aspiration. He’ll focus on three distinct eras in the city’s history—Moravian Bethlehem, industrial Bethlehem and post-industrial Bethlehem.

“The idea is to treat Bethlehem as an icon and microcosm of the nation as a whole,” says Moglen. “These moments in the city’s history have been materially significant and symbolically influential in the development of America’s self-image.”

Moglen will also join an esteemed international group of colleagues to focus on the theme “Education, Schools and the State,” seeking to rethink the relationship between education and democracy in the 21st century.

Through weekly seminars, Moglen will have the opportunity to present his work and contribute to an ongoing dialogue related to the theme. The seminars will allow Moglen to examine how Lehigh can expand its efforts to come together with its neighbors to foster democratic deliberation that can shape the future of the city. Moglen will also contribute the knowledge gleaned from his experiences with SSI to a book planned by the Institute on the future of democratic education.

“Great universities of the twenty-first century will be engines of democracy. They will break down barriers that separate the specialized knowledge of scholars from the forms of local knowledge that people always possess about their own communities,” says Moglen. “For Lehigh to fully realize its potential, we need to combine the highly sophisticated technical knowledge of the university with the historical memory, the knowledge of place, the aspirations of our South Side neighbors.”

--Tricia Long

Photo by Douglas Benedict

Posted on Friday, April 24, 2009

share this story: