Geoffrey Harpham

Photo by Maximilian Glas


Literary scholar and intellectual historian


Geoffrey is a literary scholar and intellectual historian. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Tulane University, and Duke University. From 2003 to 2015, he was president and director of the National Humanities Center, building the endowment from $32M to $80M. During this time he became a prominent historian of and advocate for the humanities, sponsoring initiatives that encouraged dialogues between the humanities and the sciences and social sciences. Geoffrey’s longstanding scholarly interests include the role of ethics in literary study, the place of language in intellectual history, the history of education, the place of scholarship in the contemporary world, and the history of the race concept. He has received fellowships from the J. S. Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

At THE NEW INSTITUTE Geoffrey is involved in the program The Human Condition in the 21st Century.

  • What gives you hope?

    The human capacity for self-understanding and self-criticism, as individuals and as a species.

  • How does change happen?
    By awakening and guiding the human capacity for self-understanding and self-critiscism, as individuals and as a species.

  • If you could have a conversation with one person (dead or alive) who would it be?

    William Shakespeare, whose understanding of the human condition displayed a superhuman capacity for sympathy, respect, compassion, and severity; and whose mastery of the rapidly evolving language revealed immense possibilities for creative agency in thought and expression.


Theories of Race 1684–1900, 2023

Citizenship on Catfish Row: Race and Nation in American Popular Entertainment, 2022

Scholarship and Freedom, 2019

What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez? The American Revolution in Education, 2017

The Ascetic Imperative in Culture and Criticism, 1987

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