highways on the sea: from Machado to Paolo Freire

This is a perfect short poem from Antonio Machado’s Proverbios y Cantares (1912):


Todo pasa y todo queda:
pero lo nuestro es pasar,
pasar haciendo caminos,
caminos sobre la mar

Everything passes and everything stays,
But ours is to cease to be. 
We make a highway as we pass,
A highway on the sea. 

Machado had already juxtaposed caminos (roads, paths, journeys) with el mar (the sea) in the second poem of the volume:


¿Para qué llamar caminos 
a los surcos del azar?... 
Todo el que camina anda, 
como Jesús, sobre el mar. 

Why designate as highways
furrows left aimlessly? ...
Anything that travels moves,
like Jesus, on the sea.

The same pairing recurs in the most-quoted lyric of the whole book:


Caminante, son tus huellas 
el camino y nada más; 
caminante, no hay camino, 
se hace camino al andar. 
Al andar se hace camino, 
y al volver la vista atrás 
se ve la senda que nunca 
se ha de volver a pisar. 
Caminante, no hay camino, 
sino estellas sobre la mar.

Traveler, the highway
is your footprints, nothing more;
Traveler, there is no highway,
you make it as you walk.
As you walk, you make the highway—
and the path you see when you turn back
is the route where you'll never be.
Traveler, there is no highway,
save for stars upon the sea.

In 1987, the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire (then 66 years old) and the American organizer Myles Horton (82) interviewed each other at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, which Horton had led. Freire says, “Myles, I think we could start our conversation by saying something to each other about our very existence in the world.” A little later, he adds, “It’s very important for Brazilian readers to have information about Myles. About me, they have already, but about Myles they don’t have and it’s very, very important.”

Horton adds, “Yes, but the people in this country need the same thing about you.” He then proposes to talk “mainly [about] the things that would help people understand where I came from in terms of my ideas and my thinking, what they are rooted in. Is that the idea?” Freire replies, “Yes. Everything you recognize as something important. I think that even though we need to have some outline, I am sure that we make the road by walking. It has to do with this house [Highlander], with this experience here. You’re saying that in order to start, it should be necessary to start.”

The resulting book, We Make the Road by Walking (Horton & Freire 1990), explains in a footnote that Freire is adapting “a proverb by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, in which one line reads “se hace camino al andar,” or “you make the way as you go.”

For activists, this phrase suggests that people can make new pathways by taking action, and perhaps that we should learn the trails that our elders have left for us. But I think Machado’s original point was apolitical. He meant that the stories we tell about ourselves are not permanent–or even important–and they vanish as we pass through them.

Translations by Peter Levine. Photo by Candie Carawan in Horton & Freire, We Make the Road by Walking (Temple University Press 1990). See also: Machado: Glory is never what I’ve sought; Lorca’s rivers

Is the USA the favorite destination for migrants?

When a conversation in this country turns critical about the USA, someone may interject that foreigners want to move here more than anywhere else. I have heard that point made quite a few times over the years.

It is not exactly false. The Gallup World Poll purports to be a representative global sample. It asks whether you would like to move to another country and, if so, which one you would most prefer. The USA is the most popular destination, at 21%, followed by Canada and Germany, at 6%, and France and Australia, at 5%.

But there are other ways to slice the data. One is to adjust for population size. The USA is almost 13 times as populous as Australia, but only 4.2 times as popular as the first choice for potential migrants. If you imagine that migrants could allocate themselves to the countries of their choice, then Australia would draw many more immigrants per capita than the USA. In fact, migration involves many factors apart from the potential migrants’ preferences, but 30% of Australian residents are actually foreign-born, versus 13.6 of US residents.

Likewise, 3.5 times more potential migrants would go to the USA than to Canada, but the US is 8.7 times more populous than Canada. And in reality, 23 percent of Canadians are foreign-born, versus 13.6 percent of US residents.

Another way to analyze the data is to combine countries. Gallup does not provide statistics on the popularity of smaller European countries, such as Belgium, whose actual immigrant population is 17.2% (i.e., higher than that of the USA). But if you combine the EU countries that Gallup lists, they total 20%, just shy of the USA’s 21%. I imagine that adding the other EU countries would make Europe more popular than the United States in aggregate. To be sure, some European migration is among the EU countries, but why shouldn’t that count?

Another interesting tidbit is that 10% of US and Canadian residents (combined) would prefer to migrate away from their countries. That is actually a higher rate than in Asia.

People who consider migrating tend to want to move to places where there is capital, demand for labor, and no war. Some countries that meet these standards rank unusually low as the preferred destinations for migrants, Japan being the most prominent example. But most of America’s counterparts would attract at least as many immigrants on a per-capita basis as we do, and many actually have more foreign-born residents.

Meanwhile, the countries that draw the most migrants are mostly not democratic, social-democratic, or liberal. Not counting micro-states, six of the eight sovereign nations that have the highest proportions of migrants are monarchies in the Persian Gulf (the other two being Luxembourg and Singapore). They are not necessarily preferred destinations–they register on the global poll but fall behind NATO members and Australia–but they do meet the criteria of capital and domestic peace, and they let people in.

See also: American exceptionalism; American exceptionalism, revisited; and anxieties about American exceptionalism

Reformation propaganda (note #2 from the Levine library)

This post is one of a series about books that my father left to me and that now line my office shelves at Tufts. More on how that happened is here.

In a folio volume of almost 2,000 dense pages, informally known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, John Foxe describes the persecutions of true-believing Christians since Roman times. Most of the book is devoted to its own period, when the persecutors were Catholics. This narrative helped create a sense of Protestantism as distinct from Roman Catholicism, and of England as a Protestant nation. It influenced and supplied some illustrations for my book The Anachronist.

Foxe’s Booke was a massive undertaking. It required the vast collaborative labor of collecting the names and stories of tortured and executed Protestants from across Europe. Foxe published numerous editions as new names arrived, and many copies were sold.

I have the 1576 edition, a great block of Gothic text with numerous engravings, most of which depict Protestants being tried or killed by Catholics. Here, for example, is the image on p. 1468, which shows “The talk between M[r] Bradford, and two Spanish Friers.”

John Bradford (1510–1555) was a Protestant clergyman who was burned by the government of Mary Tudor. The image shows him in his cell in the Tower of London, being interrogated by Spaniards. Queen Mary–“Bloody Mary” to Protestants–had married King Phillip II of Spain and brought England back into the Roman Church. However, by the time Foxe published an edition of his Booke in England, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth was “our gracious Lady now reigning,” and Spain was the hated enemy. This is an image of foreign treachery as well as Roman Catholic intolerance.

I thought of it last spring when I saw a painting in the Carthusian monastery of Granada, Spain. Painted in the early 1600s, it shows Thomas Cromwell condemning four Catholic clergy to death for their faith. He is likely sitting in an imagined Tower of London. That is where John Bradford met the Spanish friars under Queen Mary and where Cromwell had his own head chopped off (meriting a heroic account in Foxe’s book).

Juan Sánchez Cotán, Historia de los mártires de Inglaterra. Tres priores y un monje de Santa Brígida juzgados por C[r]onwel, Granada, Spain, via villadeorgaz.es

This painting hangs in the refectory, where the monks would dine, as part of a series entitled “The History of the Martyrs of England” by Juan Sánchez Cotán. Its didactic purpose was to remind the Spanish friars of Granada that Protestant Englishmen were their persecutors and foes.

The two images have some iconographic and stylistic similarities, although the “Gaoler” in the English print looks Mannerist (with his elongated body), and the Spanish painting is baroque.

Most of the specific stories that both sides collected were probably true. Each side interpreted the persecutions of their own co-religionists as clear evidence that their enemy was cruel. There is perhaps a lesson here about selection bias …

See also Coryat’s Crudities (note #1 from the Levine library); twenty-five thousand books to Bosnia; and my father’s books are going to James Madison’s desk at Montpelier.

1984 all over again? The Reagan/Biden analogy

The Biden team is preparing for a Reagan-style victory lap in the event that the economy looks healthy in 2024. I hope they are also prepping for more difficult circumstances, since the economic forecast is highly uncertain. However, for what it’s worth, Morgan Stanley “now projects 1.9% GDP growth for the first half of this year.”

These are my prior assumptions:

  1. A president has limited and ambiguous impact on macroeconomic trends. Too many other factors matter, from the Federal Reserve and Congress to the business cycle, and from wars and technological developments to the budgets of 50 states.
  2. Although many people vote on other grounds, enough marginal voters are influenced by recent changes in the economy that those trends predict the results of presidential elections.
  3. People cite the economic and electoral fortunes of each presidential administration to support their ideological positions. For instance, the apparent successes of FDR and Reagan were used to vindicate New Deal liberalism and neoliberalism, respectively.
  4. Economic trends influence public opinion, but they do not determine the outcome of the debate about ideology. Eisenhower, Clinton, and Obama are examples of presidents who saw healthy net economic growth and were reelected, yet their administrations did not move public opinion as FDR’s and Reagan’s did. The big shifts in opinion seem to reflect changes in the Zeitgeist, not just electoral and economic developments.

Applying #1 means that Biden’s policies will not affect the economy much in 2024, even though Morgan Stanley believes that he is responsible for the upturn. According to #2, Biden will win pretty easily if growth is robust but could lose to Trump or another Republican if it stalls.

Per #3, if the economy grows and Biden wins, the President and many Democrats will argue that the reason was his industrial policy, which is aggressive, green, and pro-equity. I favor the policy, so I will be hoping that this argument sticks, even though I believe that macroeconomic trends are out of his hands.

If the case for Bidenomics does persuade, it will be thanks to the Zeitgeist. To make that explanation a little less mystical, I would focus on two factors.

First, the previously dominant neoliberal view really is fading now, much as late-Victorian laissez-faire was faltering by 1932 and New Deal liberalism had run its course by 1980. By a certain point, established theories don’t offer plausible solutions to the problems of the day, but alternatives do. By the time FDR took office, his home state of New York and several others had already moved in the direction of the New Deal; Roosevelt took the opportunity to bring their ideas to Washington. Likewise for Reagan in 1980–and for Biden in 2020. Indeed, Trump is no neoliberal, and there will probably be no national candidate who runs on cutting taxes and spending.

Second, the demographic basis of politics has shifted. I avoid crude materialistic and class-based predictions, yet the people who have the most to gain from low taxes and light regulation are business owners and investors. They are now outweighed in the GOP (which they once controlled) by working-class voters. They are represented in the Democratic Party, but outweighed there, too, by diverse lower-income voters, public sector workers, and salaried professionals.

The tectonic plates are shifting, and it’s at such moments that presidential administrations become examples or even metaphors for fundamental change. We had a “new deal for America” and then saw “morning in America” once the actual New Deal state faltered. The opportunity to make another such shift is a good reason to run a celebratory campaign in 2024–if (but only if) the economy holds up.

See also: federal spending for both climate and democracy

the Supreme Court against civic education

In Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard (2022), the Supreme Court prohibited affirmative action on the basis of theories about race in America, the Fourteenth Amendment, its own proper role and authority, and its power over other institutions (such as universities) that I strongly contest.

Those are the most important issues. However, the Court also adopts a problematic view of education that deserves attention. In essence, the majority sees education as a consumer good that benefits the students who purchase it, not as a public good that can be designed to benefit the society. Both Chief Justice Roberts’ decision and Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion explicitly name college admissions as “zero sum,” since “a benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former at the expense of the latter.”

Many people share this assumption. To a significant extent, US colleges and universities act accordingly: they provide experiences and degrees as scarce consumer goods with tangible–generally economic–benefits for the individuals who purchase them (Levine 2023). But this is an impoverished view, and the Court’s ruling reinforces it.

Chief Justice Roberts writes that the Fourteenth Amendment bans consideration of race in the provision of all goods and services by public and private entities. “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it. … Any exceptions to the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee must survive a daunting two-step examination known as ‘strict scrutiny.'” Under this test, any policy that considers race at all must be strictly measurable so that a court can determine whether it is necessary and effective for achieving a constitutionally appropriate end. “For example, courts can discern whether the temporary racial segregation of inmates will prevent harm to those in the prison.”

The defendants in Students for Fair Admissions (Harvard and UNC) had asserted that their affirmative action policies were necessary for important public goals:

Harvard identifies the following educational benefits that it is pursuing: (1) “training future leaders in the public and private sectors”; (2) preparing graduates to “adapt to an increasingly pluralistic society”; (3) “better educating its students through diversity”; and (4) “producing new knowledge stemming from diverse outlooks.” … . UNC points to similar benefits, namely, “(1) promoting the robust exchange of ideas; (2) broadening and refining understanding; (3) fostering innovation and problem-solving; (4) preparing engaged and productive citizens and leaders; and enhancing appreciation, respect, and empathy, cross-racial understanding, and breaking down stereotypes.”

Roberts replies:

Although these are commendable goals, they are not sufficiently coherent for purposes of strict scrutiny. At the outset, it is unclear how courts are supposed to measure any of these goals. How is a court to know whether leaders have been adequately “train[ed]”; whether the exchange of ideas is “robust”; or whether “new knowledge” is being developed? Even if these goals could somehow be measured, moreover, how is a court to know when they have been reached, and when the perilous remedy of racial preferences may cease? There is no particular point at which there exists sufficient “innovation and problem solving,” or students who are appropriately “engaged and productive.”

Roberts acknowledges that a court can determine at trial whether it is necessary to segregate incarcerated people by race, “but the question whether a particular mix of minority students produces ‘engaged and productive citizens’ or effectively ‘train[s] future leaders’ is standardless.”

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor argues that the “measurability” criterion is an innovation, not based on precedents. The court has accepted other goals that are not particularly measurable. In any case, we can measure whether students have been prepared for leadership, whether they are empathetic and knowledgable, and whether campus discussions are robust. We can also investigate the effect of any given policy, such as affirmative action, on such outcomes. There are large literatures on these topics. For instance, Bowen and Bok (1998) found positive effects, and their work has been cited 3,900 times.

But policies are not like chemical compounds that can be tested in randomized experiments and predicted to work consistently when mass-produced. Outcomes depend on the context, the participants’ motivations and preparation, the degree to which people undermine or distort the goals, and the evolution of relevant practices. For example, college admissions are managed by admissions officers who are selected, trained, provided with rubrics and other tools, and assessed–and those efforts can go well or badly. Meanwhile, applicants pursue their own interests, and at least some may try to “game” any system.

Thus the effects of affirmative action on outcomes like empathy or leadership will always be a bit ambiguous and subject to change. Besides, affirmative action is a very modest tweak to a system of intense competition for scarce economic advantage that could be reformed in much deeper ways. As such, it will never solve the problems it purports to address. As Roberts says, “There is no particular point at which there exists sufficient ‘innovation and problem solving,’ or students who are appropriately ‘engaged and productive.’”

But the Court says: You cannot try. Outcomes like leadership and empathy may be “commendable,” but they are too contingent and open-ended to be taken seriously in a court. Let’s face it, Roberts says, the real purpose of higher education is to sell individual consumers the services they prefer, and discrimination is illegal in any consumer marketplace. Colleges may claim that they are helping to build “an increasingly pluralistic society” or “preparing engaged and productive citizens and leaders” (and that is how they may justify their tax-exempt status, their public subsidies, and their fundraising), but they are not really in that business.

In her dissent, Justice Jackson commends UNC for considering racial diversity in its admissions process as a way of building a more equal society. “Once trained, those UNC students who have thrived in the university’s diverse learning environment are well equipped to make lasting contributions in a variety of realms and with a variety of colleagues, which, in turn, will steadily decrease the salience of race for future generations.” The Court forbids that approach. We are not allowed to try to make it work; we must immediately cease.

The decision does allow universities to consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” Their account must be strictly individual. “A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination.” (Italics in the original.) As many have noted, this holding will encourage students of color to write application essays that may distort how they really think about their own identities and goals, and it will offer advantages for people who can afford coaching and expert advice to write essays that comply with the law.

I would add, again, that Roberts’ logic here is consumeristic. An applicant is treated as a potential consumer who might be more valuable to the institution than is evident from test scores and grades alone, and who should be allowed to mention race in making that case. It is impermissible, however, to ask whether the applicant’s demographic characteristics might help build a better community for everyone.

As Justice Jackson writes, it has become illegal to ask whether students will make “a meaningful contribution to the larger, collective, societal goal that the Equal Protection Clause embodies (its guarantee that the United States of America offers genuinely equal treatment to every person, regardless of race).”

Justice Sotomayor concludes her dissent:

Notwithstanding this Court’s actions, however, society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted. Diversity is now a fundamental American value, housed in our varied and multicultural American community that only continues to grow. The pursuit of racial diversity will go on. …. Despite the Court’s unjustified exercise of power, the opinion today will serve only to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of an America whose cries for equality resound. As has been the case before in the history of American democracy, “the arc of the moral universe” will bend toward racial justice despite the Court’s efforts today to impede its progress.

We can only hope she is right.

Sources: Levine, Peter. “The Democratic Mission of Higher Education: A Review Essay.” Political Science Quarterly (2023); Bowen, William G., and Derek Bok. The shape of the river: Long-term consequences of considering race in college and university admissions. Princeton University Press, 1998.

Religious Pluralism and Robust Democracy in Multiracial Societies

It’s not for me, as the chief organizer, to assess how this year’s Frontiers of Democracy went, but I loved every minute of it. I am deeply grateful to all the people who made it happen, from the plenary presenters to people who joined the conversations, plus my Tufts colleagues who supported the event.

Our theme in 2023 was “Religious Pluralism and Robust Democracy in Multiracial Societies.” I believe that explicit attention to religion helped to make the participants more diverse than they have been in the past and allowed us to talk in frank, personal, and existential ways that might otherwise be missed or even suppressed.

Just for example, on the first plenary panel, Rev. Cristina Moon, a Zen priest and activist, recalled how renouncing the self had helped her to take better care of herself, and Sharon Stroye, who is an associate pastor as well as an academic leader and activist, responded with a memory of giving herself over to Jesus–with similar results. Although I can’t speak for either of them or know what they believe about religious matters, I suspect that their metaphysical premises are very different, yet their psychological needs and journeys are similar; and the human bond between them was palpable.

I am not sure that anyone really articulated an account of how the concepts named in our conference title–religion, pluralism, democracy, and race–might all fit together. Anyone’s theory would be that person’s alone, and most of the other 125 participants would disagree. Of course, this diversity of opinion is an asset.

For myself: I happen not to be religious in any of the major senses of that word. I don’t identify with a faith, belong to or participate in any religious-defined community, believe things that are coded as explicitly religious, or practice religious observances. But I hold abstract beliefs that cannot be demonstrated empirically, such as the intrinsic value of all human life. Some of these beliefs derive from religions, or at least they have been articulated in religious terms that I have absorbed. I belong to communities that matter deeply to me and that are organized around ideas and rituals as well as human ties. And I practice–although I wish to practice more–exercises for self-improvement, self-discipline, self-care, and connection to others.

Meanwhile, I observe that all around me are people who articulate their identities, memberships, activities, and beliefs in explicitly religious terms, often professing one of the global faiths, such as Christianity or Islam. And among those who are hostile to all of such faiths, many seem to be just as committed to abstract metaphysical and moral premises and are just as likely to draw boundaries around their respective communities of belief, whether those are labeled science, socialism, free enterprise, nationalism, or something else.

A democracy is a society in which people freely form their own views about who they are, what they want, and what is right and then make some decisions collectively–on an equal basis–while also creating the social world by acting in a whole range of diverse smaller groups.

Our actual society is very far from this ideal because people are not even roughly equal and we often do not even try to make collective decisions fairly or wisely, in part because some of us are hostile to others. But we have democratic impulses and opportunities.

The explicitly defined religions are relevant because they help people to make sense of who they are, what is right, and what they want. Religions recruit individuals into public life and educate and organize them for effective participation. Although they reflect and reinforce the characteristics that make our society unequal, such as race and class, they also break those boundaries on occasion. They provide vocabularies and conceptual materials for thinking relatively deeply about justice. And they connect the inner life to action in the world.

Religions certainly have mixed records, causing or reinforcing many forms of cruelty and injustice. Their adherents blatantly violate their most explicit principles in the name of those principles themselves. Violent Buddhist priests and Christian denominations battling over inches of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are just two examples of human folly expressed religiously. Then again, the major anti-religious movements also have poor records, and religions have often been helpful at moments of progress.

In any case, I would not distinguish sharply among the religions or between religion and secularism. It is not true, as John Rawls and many other modern thinkers have presumed, that “A modern democratic society is characterized … by a plurality of reasonable but incompatible comprehensive doctrines.” (Rawls explains: “A reasonable doctrine … covers the major religious, philosophical, and moral aspects of human life in a more or less consistent and coherent manner. It organizes and characterizes recognized values to that they are compatible with each other and express an intelligible view of the world.”)

Rawls imagines society as divided among namable groups like the Protestants, the Catholics, the Muslims, the Confucians, the Marxists, the libertarians, and the nationalists (my examples), each with core assumptions that explain all their other beliefs. Since their assumptions are incompatible, a fair government is one that treats them all impartially.

But we don’t have neatly organized systems of beliefs. (Perhaps a few of us do, but those people tend to be the fanatics.) Most of us have many beliefs, some organized, some disconnected, some in mutual tension. We get them from all kinds of sources. Stories, maxims, practices, and forms of organization tend to migrate from one faith community to another, as the story of Siddhartha Gautama’s childhood morphed into the Book of Bilawhar and Budhasaf in 8th century Muslim Baghdad, turned into a Georgian Christian epic written in Greek in Constantinople, turned into the Latin story of the monkish saints Barlaam and Josaphat, became La vie de seint Josaphaz in Anglo-Norman and the German medieval romance of Barlaam und Josaphat, supplied a plot motif for Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and fueled anti-Reformation propaganda in the 16th century.

This kind of story does not suggest that we are all alike. An early Mahayana Buddhist believed very different things from a counter-Reformation Catholic. But the fact that they told the same story shows that they were connected.

Separated, unequal, but connected is our condition, and we need to talk about all of that.

Source: Rawls, John. 1993. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press. See also the relevance of American civil religion to K-12 education; notes on religion and cultural appropriation: the case of US Buddhism; when political movements resemble religions; are religions comprehensive doctrines? the political advantages of organized religion etc.

The Democratic Mission of Higher Education

Newly published: Peter Levine, The Democratic Mission of Higher Education: A Review Essay, Political Science Quarterly, 2023; https://doi.org/10.1093/psquar/qqad068.

Abstract: Controversies about speech on college campuses attract intense popular attention. Three recent books analyze campus speech as one of the ways that academia affects American democracy. In The Channels of Student Activism, Amy J. Binder and Jeffrey L. Kidder argue that college-student activists respond to incentives. Progressive students have opportunities to engage closely with their universities but often end up frustrated, while conservative students get support from national organizations to work off-campus and endorse conservative visiting speakers as a way of influencing their own institutions. Among other recommendations, Binder and Kidder suggest that universities should promote democratic values by adopting more persuasive positions about controversial speech. In Cancel Wars, Sigal-Ben Porath defends one such position: universities should avoid censorship and punitive responses to speech while actively ensuring that all members of their community are valued. In What Universities Owe Democracy, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels argues that higher education affects democracy in many ways beyond explicit political speech, and he presents recommendations that involve admissions, curricular reform, and research. Levine finds many helpful insights and suggestions in these books but adds reasons to doubt the democratic potential of prestigious colleges and universities. He advocates serious public investment in democratic education for children and for adults who are not students.

Coryat’s Crudities (note #1 from the Levine library)

For reasons that Angela Nelson describes in this article, my office at Tufts contains about 2,000 books printed before 1800 that my late father collected. Recently, I brought a ladder to campus so that I can see what’s on the upper shelves. I’m planning to pull down a book or two at a time and blog occasionally about what I find.

For instance, I found a 1611 edition of Coryat’s Crudities. It is in characteristically poor condition, split into two parts along its spine, with its cover loose. As a result, its market value is just about zero. However, the split reveals some considerably older, Gothic printed text that was used to repair it.

A previous owner has hand-written a kind of index on five blank pages at the front. I am not certain, but I think this owner was the Obadiah Cookson who signed his name on the title page in 1754. If that’s true, it’s fascinating, because the Obadiah Cookson known to Google lived nearby in the Massachusetts Colony. My Dad bought most of his books in London, so possibly this one has made three Atlantic crossings.

As for the book: Thomas Coryat or Coryate was an eccentric, a courtier who seems to have been more laughed at than laughed with–most popular as a butt of jokes. In 1608, during a period of peace, he traveled in Continental Europe and published his Crudities as an anthology of notes, letters, anecdotes, and poems that he ostensibly collected along the way. It was the first work in English to tell the story of William Tell and the first to describe the implement that we call a fork:

The Italian and also most strangers that are commorant in Italy, doe alwaies at their meales use a little Forks when they cut their meat. … so that whatsoever he be that sitting in the company of any others at meale, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers from which all at the table doe cut, he will give occasion of offence unto the company, as having transgressed the lawes of good manners, insomuch that for his error he shall be at the least brow-beaten, if not reprehended in wordes.

Coryat adds that he still uses a fork in England, and a friend has nicknamed him “Furcifer”–fork-bearer.

The first pages of the book are headed, “Certain opening and drawing dystiches [two-line poems] to be applyed as mollifying Cataplasmes [poultices] to the Tumours, Carnosities, or difficult Pimples full of matter appearing in the Author’s front …”

In other words, if the author’s main text offends, you can apply his rhyming couplets for relief. For example:

Our Author in France rode on horse without stirrup
And in Italie bathed himself in their syrrop. 

These lyric gems are all attributed–falsely–to B[en] Jonson, who is also credited with an introductory poem in honor of Coryat. A different “charitable friend” purportedly wrote the character-sketch that comes next in the volume. This text describes the “famous … Traveler and Gentleman Author of these … Crudities” thus:

He is an Engine, wholly consisting of extremes, a Head, Fingers, and Toes. For what his industrious Toes have trod, his ready Fingers have written, his subtle head dictating. He was set a-going for Venice the fourteenth of May Anno 1608 and returned home (of himself) the third of October following.

We’re told that he absolutely loves to travel:

The mere superscription of a letter from Zurich sets him up like a top: Basil or Heidelberg makes him spin. And at seeing the word Frankford, or Venice, though but on the title of a Booke, he is readie to break doublet, cracke elbowes, and overflowe the roome with his murmure. Hee is a mad Greeke, no lesse then a merry, and will buy his Egges, his Puddings, his Ginger-bread, yea, cobble his shoes in the Atticke dialect …

This fellow seems to have been a sort of Yorick, or a Jacobean Edward Lear, or a bit like Anthony Bourdain in his enthusiasm for travel and food and his self-deprecating humor. I think I would have liked him, although at times he may have talked too much about himself.

See also: a seventeenth-century Englishman inside the Great Pyramid

Civically Engaged Research in Political Science

Today begins the 2023 Institute for Civically Engaged Research (ICER) at Tisch College, a project of the American Political Science Association that I am co-directing with Valeria Sinclair-Chapman. Seventeen committed political scientists have gathered here to develop their skills for “collaborating in a mutually beneficial way with people and groups beyond the academy to co-produce, share, and apply knowledge related to power or  politics, contributing to self-governance.” (Cabrera Rasmussen, Lieberman, Levine, Sinclair-Chapman, & Smith 2022).

Civically Engaged Research in political science is not sharply distinct from Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), Transdisciplinary Research, or Participatory Action Research (PAR), all of which we will discuss during the institute. Why then work to develop a specific approach for political science?

I see two reasons. One is that the discipline of political science is a community composed of thousands of people who have some influence. If engaged approaches to research have value, then it’s worth developing them in this community–as in other fields. CBPR and Transdisciplinary Research are more deeply rooted in public health than elsewhere. Sociologists have developed Public Sociology. We seek to bring similar change to political science–not to supplant other methods but to expand the toolkit.

The other reason is that political scientists may have distinctive ways to practice engaged research, because we focus more than other disciplines do on governance, political acts, and power.

See also: civically engaged research in political science; how to keep political science in touch with politics; methods for engaged research; engaged theory and the construction of community; bootstrapping value commitments