One recent Tuesday evening, nine twenty- and thirtysomethings gathered in the back room of Boerum Hill’s Building on Bond to discuss a crucial text for understanding our sociopolitical moment: Plato’s Republic. While a waitress brought dinner and $3 pints of Bud, their conversation meandered from the foundational treatise to related matters left unexplored by its author, like whether Ron Paul’s libertarianism is more deontological or consequentialist. (The consensus: probably deontological at heart, though voters demand consequentialist arguments.) Two hours in, the crowd migrated up to the bar, where the discussion continued in the same vein. They were still drinking and talking when the bartender announced last call.
What transpired that night just may represent the future of higher education—or at least one proudly low-tech vision of it. Politics of the City, the formal name for the somewhat informal gathering, is the first course offered by the new Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. Its instructor, Ajay Chaudhary, dreamed up the institute while teaching in Columbia’s famed Core Curriculum, in which every undergraduate reads the classics of Western civilization. “Whenever I talked with people outside the university about what I did,” Chaudhary said, “they would tell me, ‘I want to do that. I want to read Aristotle and Augustine.’ ”
Continuing-education programs tend to be bluntly functional (professional-development courses like computer programming or bookkeeping), less than rigorous (culture “appreciation” classes), or flat-out silly (see “Transformers Star Tyrese Gibson: How to Get Out of Your Own Way—Tips for Making It” at the Learning Annex). More serious academic fare is proliferating online, but those classes are primarily for quants not quals.
In addition to classes, they are raising money over at Kickstarter to develop a knowledge tool, ~Archive. Consider a donation:
The ~Archive is a tool to provide easy electronic access to out-of-print or hard to find texts.
Okay, it's a tool. How does it work?
It happens every day. Mostly to academics, journalists, and other knowledge professionals, but also to anyone who is conducting independent research or simply trying to figure out something that's just beyond the reach of Google, Wikipedia, or even the local library. You find a reference to an important but impossible to find text. It could be old. It could be out of print. It could be rare. All you know is that you need it and you can't have it. These are not the old books you can already get for free on your Kindle or iPad through Project Gutenberg, or what you can find, sometimes incomplete, on Google Books. We love these services and wonder how we ever lived without them. We are talking about a lot of other stuff. Stuff that fell through the cracks. Works that history forgot to record, except for a tiny reference in an essay or a newspaper review. Books that are crumbling in an archive or private collection, which normally couldn’t be reproduced without permanent damage. And that's where our ~Archive comes in.