John Toews

Professor Emeritus
John Toews

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Ph.D. Harvard University, 1973

I am an historian of modern Western intellectual and cultural history, with a specific focus on Europe since the Eighteenth Century . My teaching and scholarship investigates the emergence and transformation of historical consciousness in Western cultures over the past two centuries. My work has been particularly focused on reconstructing the cultural assumptions and ethical implications embedded in the texts of influential historical thinkers on the nineteenth-century German tradition, from Hegel to Freud. I also examine the ways in which thinking of human existence as essentially historical has been articulated in musical compositions and in the spatial forms of architecture and urban planning. In all of my work I try to connect the reconstruction of past thinking to the dilemma of living our own lives, both individually and collectively, with an expanded understanding of our humble status as heterogeneous products of multiple pasts and of our responsibility as makers of the future. Most recently I have turned my attention to the analysis of the shifting cultural frameworks through which temporality is experienced in the contemporary world, and on the ways in which such transformations suggest a need to revise our customary ways of imagining personal and collective narrative.

At the University of Washington, I am probably best known for my role in developing the Comparative History of Ideas Program ( CHID) into a national model for innovative interdisciplinary undergraduate education, and into the second largest Humanities major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Trusting students to participate as full partners with faculty and staff in shaping their curriculum, focusing on project-based and collaborative learning, intensive international experience, public service and constant critical self-reflection, CHID has reinvigorated the traditions of a liberal arts education within the context of responsible global citizenship. The courses I teach in the History Department articulate my interdisciplinary proclivities and are usually cross-listed with the CHID program. I have directed a quarter-long Foreign Study in Berlin a number of times during the last decade that centers on the analysis of architecture and public space as an archive of historical memory and national identity formation. In recent years I have focused my undergraduate teaching on a series of courses devoted to Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as mentors of modern cultural critique. My seminars at both the graduate and undergraduate level are thematically focused and usually designed to appeal to collaborative investigation across the disciplines.