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Ethan Schrum studies the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the United States and its role in the world from the late nineteenth through the twentieth century, with a primary research focus on the role of universities and academic knowledge in American life. He earned his Ph.D. in history at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 and subsequently served as a lecturer there, teaching courses on general U.S. history, American intellectual history, and the U.S. in the world. He has published several articles, including “Clark Kerr’s Early Career, Social Science, and the American University” (Perspectives on the History of Higher Education, 2011) and “Establishing a Democratic Religion: Metaphysics and Democracy in the Debates Over the President’s Commission on Higher Education” (History of Education Quarterly, 2007). Ethan’s other research interests include the character of modernity and the role of religion, philosophy, and science in the public life of liberal democracy.
Ethan is currently at work on a book project stemming from his dissertation, “Administering American Modernity: The Instrumental University in the Postwar United States.” It combines intellectual, institutional, and political history to reinterpret American life from 1945 to 1970 by showing how the research university adopted a new understanding of its mission—as an instrument for solving social problems rather than a refuge for scholarship—and became a (if not the) central social institution of the postwar era. In contrast to prevailing scholarship that has overemphasized the impact of the Cold War on the postwar university, this project shows how the formation of “the instrumental university” had much longer roots that began in the 1910s and later took substantial nourishment from New Deal institutions and political culture. Ethan also works on the IASC Moral Foundations of Education project, conducting a study of university education schools.