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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
March 23, 2005

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author and Critic Louis Menand Will Speak at Carnegie Mellon on the Cold War and "The Cat in the Hat"

PITTSBURGH—Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club, will speak at Carnegie Mellon University at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, in McConomy Auditorium in the University Center. Menand's lecture is titled "The Cat Who Came in from the Cold," and concerns the writing of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" and Cold War history. The talk is sponsored by the university's Humanities Center, and is free and open to the public.

Menand is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of English at Harvard University. His 2001 book "The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America," which won the Pulitzer Prize for history, tells the story of an informal group of prominent American scholars who met during the 19th century to develop a new philosophy of pragmatism in the wake of the Civil War. The club's members included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., future justice of the U. S. Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist and the founder of semiotics. They postulated that ideas are tools that people use to make sense of the world, that they are developed by groups of individuals and that they do not have their own independent logic but are dependent upon the social environment.

"Menand is a perfect example of what we think a model humanist might be: an expert who can communicate that expertise to a broad audience," said David Shumway, director of the Humanities Center.

Menand also will participate in "The Humanities and Expertise," a conference sponsored by the Humanities Center. The conference runs from April 7-9 and will include panel discussions featuring scholars from Carnegie Mellon, Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago and Penn State, to name a few. The conference will focus on the specific kinds of knowledge that humanists produce and the relationship of the humanities to the natural and social sciences. Conference participants will explore whether humanistic knowledge is expert or general knowledge.

"These issues are particularly important at an institution like Carnegie Mellon, which traditionally has put a very high value on expert knowledge," said Shumway, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon.

"We hope that the conference will make the Carnegie Mellon community aware of what humanists here and elsewhere are doing, and how relevant the humanities are to the university's overall mission," Shumway said.

The Humanities Center is a collaboration of faculty members from Carnegie Mellon's four humanities departments: English, History, Modern Languages and Philosophy. Its goals are to strengthen research and teaching in the humanities; to foster collaborations among the humanities faculty and between humanities faculty and faculty in other disciplines; and to nurture a greater role for the humanities in an increasingly technological and global society. The center will bring to the humanities at Carnegie Mellon the university's traditional focus on multidisciplinary research and education.

The Humanities Center is part of Carnegie Mellon's Humanities Initiative, a bold program to strengthen and broaden the humanities at Carnegie Mellon. The initiative also includes the Humanities Scholars Program and the Center for the Arts in Society.

For a schedule of conference events, go to


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