Publication Date

May 4, 2015

What happens when you take 70 scholars from multiple disciplines, put them in a room together, and ask them to exchange knowledge, wisdom, and ideas?

We don’t know. But we’ll find out on June 10–11, 2015, at the first-ever ScholarFest.

Technically they won’t all be in the same room. But more than 70 top scholars from around the world—all former residents at the John W. Kluge Center—will be under one roof at the Library of Congress as they converge on Capitol Hill on the occasion of the Kluge Center’s 15th anniversary, for an event we’ve titled ScholarFest.

For those unfamiliar, the Kluge Center is the international scholars’ center inside the Library of Congress. Since 2000, we have invited and welcomed more than 600 historians, sociologists, anthropologists, religion scholars, literary scholars, journalists, writers, and former elected officials to the library to conduct research in our collections, either as senior scholars or as research fellows. We then share their research with policymakers and the public through open events, the media, and most recently our blog.

For our 15th anniversary, we wanted to welcome as many of these scholars back as we could—and also stage an event that would celebrate deep research, mature scholarship, and the interchange of ideas that have become hallmarks of the Kluge Center.

One thing we pride ourselves is our interdisciplinary conversations. Scholars today have ample opportunities to converse with those in their respective fields: professional associations, conferences and mini-conferences, scholarly journals, listservs, and academic departments among them. What happens when we create platforms where scholars share knowledge across disciplines? What happens when a historian of science converses with an astrobiologist? What happens when a scholar of material culture exchanges ideas with a literary scholar who works on a similar period? What happens when a philosopher and theologian engages with a scholar interested in race and social justice?

ScholarFest will showcase these interactions as it simultaneously showcases the brilliant individuals participating in them. As a whole, the event will demonstrate the value of creating a place where mature scholars can conduct deep primary research free from political agendas, and on topics important to our understanding of humanity and society. ScholarFest will put scholars in conversation with each other around universal themes such as how we define life in the 21st century and beyond; the ways that we write history; our differing perspectives on ethics and morality; and our notions of “world order.”

At the heart of ScholarFest is a feature we’ve termed “lightning conversations”: lively, quick-hitting exchanges that are 10-minute, informal dialogues pairing senior scholars with younger scholars. “Lightning conversations” offer differing viewpoints on a host of topics for audience members to enjoy. It is an innovative format that allows many scholars to participate and leaves those in attendance with much to ruminate on by the day’s end. After hearing so many leading thinkers in foreign policy, history, ethics, religion, and cultural studies, it is our hope that attendees will be inspired to read more and learn more about the people and topics to which they’ve been exposed.

Robert Penn Warren once said, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.” ScholarFest will not offer a prescription for how we address issues confronting humanity. It will not offer a future program for scholarship. But it will offer a glimpse into how some of today’s top thinkers provide us with a fuller understanding of the human experience: the challenges overcome and those still in our path. That alone is something worth celebrating.


is a program specialist at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He is a public historian and writer, and he sometimes uses Twitter: @JasonSteinhauer.

The first-ever ScholarFest occurs June 10–11 at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. The event is free and open to the public. Join the conversation on Twitter: #ScholarFest. 

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.