Jim Clowes: Last Lecture





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Published on Apr 17, 2013

"A University Gathering on Education, Community Building, and Links Between Experience and Disciplined Reflection" - Public Lecture at the University of Washington, November 7, 2003


The Comparative History of Ideas Program at the University of Washington is currently in its third decade of existence. It has been widely recognized for its record of curricular and pedagogical innovation, and is consistently mentioned in University reports and brochures as an exemplary interdisciplinary program.

CHID began as a tiny program in the College of Arts and Sciences under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the late 1970s. John Toews was hired as a modern cultural historian by the History Department in 1979 with the assumption that he would become Director of the program as soon as he was granted tenure. He has remained Director of the program from the time of his promotion in 1981 until the present. The program gradually grew in size and visibility during the 1980s, under the protective academic umbrella and with the administrative support of the Comparative Literature Program. The required Junior Colloquium (CHID 390) and many of the foundational, cross-listed courses in what used to be Group A of the curriculum were developed during this period.

In the early 1990s the program was transferred to the jurisdiction of the university's Dean of Undergraduate Education, where it remained until 1998, when it was transferred back to the College as an Independent Program in the Humanities. Under the leadership of James Clowes, a charismatic Teaching Assistant (TA) and Lecturer, who became Associate Director in 1994, the program developed and consolidated its characteristic institutional shape as an exemplary, collaborative, student-centered "Learning Community," and rapidly became a leader in the development of innovative international programs and exchanges for undergraduates. Jim Clowes passed away on March 1, 2004, after a 7-month struggle with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

CHID is not the result of a pre-determined plan, but the product of an evolutionary development of experimental practices and it has flourished under a very light burden of administrative supervision. The interplay of faculty cooperation, staff commitment and student involvement is at the core of the program and cannot be taken for granted. As we plan for the future we are especially concerned not to lose the interdisciplinary, cooperative and interactive elements or the freedom to evolve and change that have given the program its vitality.


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