“What forms might Enlightenment take now?" The Re:Enlightenment Project joins institutions and individuals who share a common purpose: reconceiving how knowledge works in the world. Based at New York University, the Project identifies, generates, and shares new practices through interactive exchanges, collaborative research and publication, and experiments in dissemination. It does so organically, evolving with every connection we make and through the initiatives we launch. Our basic premise, however, is straightforward. The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century—the revolution in tools, methods, and institutions that recast inquiry and enterprise in the West—still shapes many of the primary forms that knowledge takes today. It was from the Enlightenment that we inherited our modern universities and schools, libraries and museums, learned societies and clubs, periodicals and procedures. Now, more than two centuries later, gradual and sudden changes in technology, finance, and society have put that inheritance and its heirs under pressure—pressure not only to understand those changes but also to participate actively in shaping them. We join together to pursue a historic opportunity: the transformation of our Enlightenment inheritance.
The pressure to transform is mounting—shifting resources and attitudes are challenging Enlightenment norms for creating, curating, disseminating, and accrediting knowledge. We recognize great danger in the speed and severity of these changes, including the financial cuts that have been or are likely to be imposed on many institutions. But we also see opportunity—the possibility that our current mix of (financial) scarcity and (technological) prosperity can provide the impetus for beneficial transformations in knowledge. In fact, our journey so far has been a tale of discovering that such productive experiments are already underway: Re:Enlightenment is at work in the world, though almost always in isolation and without the label. To generate a shared sense of direction—that 21st-century Enlightenment has already begun—will, we hope, be invaluable to each individual enterprise and to the wider community our efforts are helping to form.
What began as a new “association” between the New York Public Library and New York University is now becoming a global network. We are academics and researchers, curators and librarians, deans and administrators, business people and funding officers, lawyers and publishers—from both the public and the private sectors. Recognizing that Enlightenment emerged in the eighteenth century from then innovative ways of mediating relationships among individuals, groups, and technologies, we have actively sought this hybridity. The collaborations strengthened by it will, we hope, enable us to construct an operating platform of concepts and tools for our expanding network, one that can bear the load of Re:Enlightenment.
The Re:Enlightenment Project promotes scholarship in its broadest sense—from the creation and curation of knowledge to its circulation and accreditation—as a public good. It aims to engage the public in these activities by highlighting the problems and explanations currently reanimating efforts to know the world. As a collaborative enterprise that fosters and depends upon institutional and individual exchange, the Project promotes the values of shared intellectual labor and of open access to the products of such labor. It seeks as well to develop robust practices for such exchange and to promote public understanding of these values.