Interpreting the Liberal Arts: Four Lectures on the History and Historiography of the Liberal Arts

The Second Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts

February 8-9, 2002




Conversation Overview


The second annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts, February 8-9, 2002, brought together academic administrators and faculty leaders from colleges and universities across SoutherSusann California representing various streams of the liberal arts tradition. Our purposes were:

  • 1. to more fully understand the historical development of liberal arts education and its various philosophical and perhaps theological underpinnings in order to better understand our own identities;
  • 2. to identify what most challenges our efforts to offer a liberal education; and
  • 3. to begin forging a community of schools that can work together to meet those challenges.

Our conversation was led by Professor Bruce Kimball of the Warner Graduate School of Education at the University of Rochester. Professor Kimball is one of the foremost scholars of liberal education. Perhaps best known among his numerous books and articles on the liberal arts tradition is Orators and Philosophers: a History of the Idea of Liberal Education.


Professor Kimball’s three presentations to the conference delegates gave us the opportunity to reflect on the various models for liberal education and the ways in which the missions of our institutions instantiate these models. Professor Kimball also gave a presentation for the broader Santa Barbara community on current trends in American higher education that threaten liberal education.


The conference closed with an open discussion among participants on where each of us would place our institutions in the landscape of the liberal arts tradition and on what each of our institutions finds most challenging to our attempts to provide a liberal education to our students.


Thanks to Professor Kimball’s thought-provoking analysis of the history of the liberal arts and to the collective wisdom and experience of the conference participants, we enjoyed two days of stimulating and productive dialogue. We look forward to continuing the conversation.