THE Re:ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT
We use the prefix “Re:” to convey a basic strategy for transforming our Enlightenment inheritance. The Project is “about” Enlightenment in that it examines how new technologies and research tools are transforming our understanding of what the Enlightenment was and how it worked. At the same time, that new knowledge of the past speaks back to the present, identifying features of Enlightenment that we should work to recharge, reconstitute, reform, or reject. The Project is thus in one sense an effort to assemble something new by reassessing and learning from the old. Enlightenment emerged in the eighteenth century from then innovative ways of mediating relationships among individuals, groups, and technologies. These entailed changes in infrastructure, such as the post office and the roads that enabled it, in genres and formats, such as newspapers and magazines, in protocols, such as copyright, and in associational practices, such as the societies and clubs that transformed public and private life. Our own effort at transformation in the twenty-first century engages current forms and practices with three touchstones in mind.:
- Past and Present—How should Enlightenment then relate to the possibilities for Enlightenment now?
- Connectivities—How can we reconnect across the boundaries and divisions—institutional, professional, disciplinary—that arose after Enlightenment?
- Mediating Technologies—How can we reconceive our structures and tools for making knowledge work in the world?
In answering these questions we strive to be constructive and opportunistic. We seek to maximize, that is, the historical good fortune of working together at a moment of new and powerful technological and intellectual mediations—a moment of change unprecedented since the Enlightenment.
New tools now offer the chance to construct an innovative strategic infrastructure for exchange and dissemination. Our membership includes, for example, the founders of an innovative startup based at Cambridge, Open Book Publishers, that offers a new model for scholarly publishing at the digital turn. Our partnering has proceeded on the local, NYU level as well, including a research seminar on “Postcolonialism and Enlightenment” undertaken with the University’s new branch of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and a working research group on “Technologies of Mediation” in conjunction with NYU’s Humanities Initiative. Meetings of our Financial Literacy Group—whose agenda was to foreground and “read” the genres of economics and finance—have already led to a collaborative effort to write a book on financial modeling.
The Re:Enlightenment Project functions as an umbrella for all of these undertakings. They are useful both in their own terms and, under the umbrella, as a means for both enhancing our knowledge of the historical Enlightenment and exploring the possibilities for reconstituting knowledge now. Any change in that sense of possibility, however, will alter, in turn, the initiatives we take. In that sense, the rubric of “Re:Enlightenment”—in its conceptualization and in action—functions less like an umbrella and more like an organism. The Re:Enlightenment Project grows and adapts, subject to feedback and the constraints and opportunities our efforts generate.