Thursday, February 11, 2010

Does Institutional Change Lead to Different Analysis?

There is an extremely thought-provoking article in the new issue of The American Scholar (HT to Arts & Letters Daily). The author is a professor of English at Drexel University and explains how students’ views of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice have changed over time.

As I read the piece, I found myself thinking about the ways in which institutions change incentives, which in turn impact the choices we make. I thought, "If anything can provide an example of how the gradual change of beliefs can result in change in perspective and analysis of a problem, this does it.

Over the course of the author's career, her audience and her audience's beliefs have changed. As a result their sympathies toward the principals in The Merchant of Venice have changed in some rather astounding ways. And that change, I think it is fair to say, may imply the acceptance of certain interactions or consequences for them.

I admit I'm not sure how one might use this. As I said, it is provocative. And it crosses those disciplinary boundaries that we often find ourselves confronted with. But it has potential. I recommend it to you, in hopes that, together, we might be able to tease out the potential. This is too good to ignore. Please comment.

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