Raison d’être

A Letter from John W. Boyer
Dean of the College and
Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History

Welcome to the University of Chicago’s Center in Paris!

The current state of flux in European politics and society presents an opportunity and an imperative to reevaluate the concept of Europe from the unique vantage point of the Center in Paris. Europe is remapping its boundaries and redefining its institutions on all levels—from courts to national assemblies, from rules of commerce to systems of higher education. The redefinition of Europe is in many ways one of the most ambitious social and political experiments of the twenty-first century. At this historic juncture, it is crucially important for major research institutions to reach clear and more nuanced understandings of Europe in all its manifestations and to share this knowledge with European and American academic, business, cultural, and governmental leaders.

In 2004 the University of Chicago inaugurated its permanent headquarters in Paris. The Center in Paris welcomes all members of the University community, from undergraduates to alumni, to join distinguished visitors in the kind of vigorous scholarly exchanges that are the hallmarks of the University’s Hyde Park campus. Over one thousand students, faculty, and visiting scholars have studied at the Center during its first five years. Its teaching mandate is exceptional. Chicago undergraduates pursue courses with a pan-European perspective that fulfill regular degree requirements in economics, international studies, the humanities, and the physical, natural, and social sciences. The Center is also designed to support the advanced studies of graduate students and faculty. Private research offices for graduate students, public conferences, fortnightly scholarly workshops, and the rich resources of Paris-based archives—such as the Bibliothèque National de France, located two blocks from the center—foster first-rate scholarship.

Because it blends the wonderfully contingent, ever-changing culture of academic collaborations and scholarly research on the part of our faculty with the sturdy permanency of undergraduate teaching programs, the Center in Paris affords the University an excellent example of a “bundled internationalism” that is especially appropriate to our time. The next stage in the Center’s development will involve still more collaborative work with research centers and academic and public communities in other parts of Europe.

Fittingly, the Center brings the rich intellectual exchanges between Europe and Chicago full circle. In 1892 President William Rainey Harper modeled Chicago’s founding principles of academic freedom and the pursuit of research for its own sake upon the great German research institutions of the nineteenth century. Through the strife of two world wars and into the current era, Europeans viewed the University of Chicago as a subtle critic of and discerning observer of their civilization. The University now honors this debt to European liberal ideals by bringing Chicago’s open and democratic style of teaching and learning to bear upon twenty-first-century questions of international civic values and by fostering scientific and humanistic collaborations between American and European scholars, students, and citizens.