The theme for this installment of Collections Highlights is inspired by the Concourse Program at MIT. Concourse is an interdisciplinary learning community for first-year undergraduates. Students in this program take many of their math and science general institute requirements (GIRs) as well as some foundational humanities courses in small classes. Along the way, they engage in fundamental questions that lie at the heart of any university. What does it mean to have an education? How do we know what we know? How have writers in different disciplines approached these questions over the centuries?
The books in this display are a small sampling from our collection that address these questions. Some have been selected by Concourse faculty, and others by librarians. We hope they will inspire you to think more deeply about some of these questions, and perhaps develop some new ones.
Note that while most of the texts listed here are in the Collection Highlights display, some might be in the basement stacks of Hayden, or in other Libraries.
Despite the great gulf separating Plato and Frederick Douglass in time and circumstances, they share the view that to become educated is to become aware of and then to challenge our initial and fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the world. In the best case, education forces us to confront those beliefs, wrestle with their adequacy, and soberly accept what we discover.
Each of these works embodies the spirt of education in its attempt to address the fundamental questions of human nature, justice, and the good life. Each questions the reigning principles of its own time with a view to guiding its reader to greater clarity about and answers to these questions.
In an age of rote memorization and no education for women thought necessary at all, Erasmus advocated for intelligent women to get their due and for children to be nurtured by their education instead of tortured – to make them fully human. Implication is that women could be fully human too. Marianne Robinson is the quintessence of a public intellectual advocating for people to face uncomfortable realities and to push themselves to think about thinking in an age not so devoted to either of those things.
The field of physics essentially began with Newton’s Principia in which he outlines his famous three laws of motion and his law of universal gravitation, ultimately using them to solve a millennia-old mystery: the motions of the planets. Although we use much more modern notation now, the contents of this book are essentially the foundation of the subject 8.01.
Einstein's paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" turns Newton's physics completely on its head. While Newton considered time and space to be absolute, in this work Einstein showed that they are actually only relative---different observers will measure them differently. As a first-year student, I took the special relativity course 8.20 and was fascinated by the consequences of this beautiful theory, inspiring me to continue my physics education and eventually become a physicist myself. Richard Feynman '39 was one of the preeminent physicists of the 20th century, but he also was known for his strong belief in education. His Lectures on Physics, given at Caltech and later released in print, are perhaps the seminal lectures on introductory physics. Feynman displayed an innate curiosity about the world, whether he was doing physics, playing drums, or seeking out long-forgotten cultures, and his popular books and stories have inspired many young physicists and the general public.
Simply a wonderful introduction to the marvels of mathematics.
While some might view the approaches to education presented by these two texts as opposed, in conversation they can nuance our sense of ideals to which education might aspire, as well as models of interaction that create conditions of possibility for engagement, reflection, and change.