Happy to be featured in Berkeley’s Visiting Scholars and Postdoc Newsletter!


By William McCarthy | VSPA News Team | July 5, 2022

When Nicoletta Montaner went to college, her career goal was to compose music for films.

“My research interests really started with aesthetics and then went to how inequality has been conceived of so differently by serious thinkers,” Montaner said.

Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Montaner had attended a vocational high school and earned a Florida Bright Future Scholarship to attend the University of South Florida. Although she started as a music student, she ultimately switched majors and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy from the Honors College. Still, when Montaner later enrolled in graduate school, she didn’t feel institutionally prepared. Ultimately, it was that experience that sparked her interest in educational inequality and the different ways that students, postdocs, and researchers travel the academic pathway.

As an ACLS/Mellon postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, Montaner has turned those questions into a one credit course available to students in the Arts and Humanities Division. The colloquium course, called “Practicing the Humanities”, is intended to help graduate students think through the ways they can promote their research and teaching experiences to non-academic audiences and explore what life might be like off the tenure track.

“It’s sitting down with students and asking, what do you really want to do with your life? Montaner said. “The tenure track is harder than it was even 10 years ago.”

In Montaner’s view, the opportunity to consider alternative paths other than academia is incredibly important, especially in an era of perpetual crisis. Academic work is increasingly contract based, lower paid, and more precarious. Montaner says the students she works with are immensely talented, but still graduate students struggle to consider other options beyond academia.

“Students at Berkeley have been working so hard on academic achievement that there hasn’t been a lot of time for other experiences.”

Montaner is asking herself some of the same questions about what’s next. She’s worked as a professional photographer for years, and for a time worked in finance – both which served as examples of how career diversity can contribute to academic work and vice versa. When Montaner’s position at Berkeley ends in August, she’ll be applying for positions in academia and beyond, aiming to in some form continue her research into the historical conceptions of social inequality.

“It’s all about thinking about how research can make an impact in unexpected ways,” Montaner said.

Practicing the Humanities Colloquium Course at Berkeley

This semester, I have been developing a graduate colloquium course for the Arts & Humanities division Ph.D. students at UC Berkeley. The course introduces graduate students from across the division to a range of work and career possibilities beyond the tenure track.

Those presenting include Berkeley alumni, faculty and leaders in public policy, publishing, technology and non-profit sectors, including higher education. Members of the class will be appointed as discussion leaders.

Students will develop a wider awareness of how humanists work in and outside academia; relate this knowledge to their own development as scholars, teachers and citizens; and develop a portfolio of resources supporting their academic and non-academic job searches.

Nearing the end of the planning stage, I’ve learned an enormous amount in developing the course. I have learned from Berkeley faculty and students what needs a course like this can meet. I have learned from interviewing colloquium guest speakers about the wide range of experiences across different generations and, within the younger generations especially, the diverse areas of humanistic knowledge and practice that prepared speakers to make remarkable contributions in and outside of academia.

I can’t wait to see what the graduate students do with this material in the Spring.

AAAS: During the stay-at-home restrictions, Americans engaged in an average of five humanities activities at least sometimes

Interesting findings in an American Academy of Arts & Sciences survey of 1,000 people in the US. The main finding is in the title of this post. Click through for a graph of results.

Other key findings:

History: Watching shows with historical content was the most popular activity by a wide margin, with over 70 percent of American adults watching these shows at least sometimes, and approximately a quarter watching very often. The second most-commonly engaged in activity was also history-related. The survey found that 55 percent of Americans spent at least some time researching a history subject of interest (via the Internet or other means).

Reading: More than half of Americans read fiction books sometimes or more often during the lockdown, although almost one-third did not read fiction at all. A somewhat smaller share (47 percent) read nonfiction at least occasionally, with 28 percent of adults doing so often or very often.

Watching shows with other humanities content: While history shows were the most popular, 49 percent of Americans spent at least some time watching shows with other humanities content (such as art, literature, philosophy, culture, or world religions).
Online research and sharing: Forty-six percent of Americans used the Internet to look up information about humanities topics sometimes or more often, while almost as many (43 percent) shared digital humanities content with others.

Bringing the performing arts home: Though attending live performances was not an option for most Americans, 46 percent watched a music or theater performance online or on television at least sometimes. Approximately one-quarter of Americans viewed the performances often or very often.

Visiting humanities institutions virtually: A markedly smaller share, 27 percent, visited the websites of museums, historic sites, or other cultural institutions at least sometimes to take a virtual tour or explore their collections. Just 12 percent of Americans did so often or very often.

Ethics: In view of the myriad ethical issues raised by the pandemic, the survey asked Americans if they thought about or researched the ethical aspects of a choice in their life. Thirty-eight percent of Americans reported engaging in such reflection at least sometimes.

2020 ACLS Emerging Voices Fellow

Now that we’ve been officially announced, I am very happy to be able to share the news.

This year, I will be working as an ACLS-funded post-doctoral fellow at University of California Berkeley’s “Practicing the Humanities” initiative, developing curriculum and programming for humanities PhDs. The initiative introduces students to the broad range of career options available to humanities graduates. The unique knowledge bases and skills our fields require are assets in a range of professional fields and sectors!

I noticed was the only philosophy PhD among a diverse group of early-career scholars who had recently completed their doctorates in Anthropology, American Studies, Communication, English, French, Geography, Hispanic Studies, History, Media Studies, Native American Studies, Political Science, Sociology and Spanish, among others.

You can read more about the fellowship here and find out how to apply for the next round:

“In response to the severe economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ACLS created the Emerging Voices Fellowship program to support early career scholars whose voices, perspectives, and broad visions will strengthen institutions of higher education and humanistic disciplines in the years to come. Fellows take up year-long placements with members of ACLS’s Research University Consortium, where they can advance their research and professional development while contributing to the teaching, programming, and administrative work of their host university.”

2020 Central APA Conference

Exciting news! I will be giving two short talks at the Central meeting of the APA in Chicago this coming February. Both papers come out of dissertation research that I look forward to sharing and receiving comments on from the panelists and participants.

Thursday evening, 2/27 7:30pm – 10:30pm
G3M. Society for German Idealism,
Panel: Hegel on History and Economics
Paper title: Hegel’s “Keynesian” Political Economy?

Friday evening, 2/28 7:00pm-10pm
G4E. Radical Philosophy Association
Panel: Reconceiving Revolution
Paper title: Pessimism, Political Economy and the ‘End of History’

I will also be commenting on a paper on Dewey’s critique of political democracy during the the American pragmatism colloquium on Thursday evening at 5:00pm.

Adventures in online teaching: Meatspace edition

Today, as I was wrapping up a phone call, I walked into one of my regular cafe spots to get some work done. I put my bag and coat down at the large group seating area and walked away so as not to distract those working with my phone conversation.

I was focusing on my conversation partner several feet away from the table, so I couldn’t pay very close attention, but a group of students sitting at the table were staring at me, then at their computers, then at me again, then back at their computers, laughing hysterically the whole time.

I immediately checked to make sure there wasn’t a massive hole in the seat of my pants.

The group remained excited for several minutes. After the call concluded, I took my seat at the large table and opened my laptop. After a few quiet moments, one student said “Excuse me. . . Hi, do you teach computing ethics at Loyola? I am in your class and we’re just watching your lecture right now. We thought there was no way it could be you. That would be so weird!”

It was indeed a little weird and a lot of fun.

I also felt incredibly lucky, because we got to know each other for a little while, which is something quite rare for online courses. It turns out I sat down with an extraordinary group of young people and now — I hope — we have the possibility of a regular point of contact not on the learning management system or email, for which I’m very grateful.

ISO Good Resources on Classroom Ethics


I am currently in search of some good resources on classroom ethics. What are your favorite articles, authors, journals or blogs on teaching philosophy and especially navigating the challenges involved in classes with diverse populations?

The Teaching Philosophy journal is a valuable resource. There may also be less visible publications I don’t know about.

Have you come across anything that you came to rely on, or helped you in unexpected ways? I would love to know about it!

Excited to be joining Loyola’s part-time Computer Science faculty in the fall!

This fall, I’ll be joining the part-time faculty in Loyola’s growing Computer Science Department teaching Social, Legal and Ethical issues in computing. I will join a part-time faculty (which includes Loyola Philosophy alum Matt Butcher) who all work professionally in their respective fields, while teaching in computer science — it’s an interesting feature of that department.

This course covers privacy, encryption, freedom of speech, copyrights and patents, computer crime, and computer/software reliability and safety; understanding of different philosophical perspectives; some of the basics of the US legal system; and the social, ethical and legal issues raised by new technologies, like self-driving cars and the ‘internet of things.’

I’m very interested to learn more about what concerns the students who are preparing to work on the systems that keep us connected to one another and to the information we require.

I’m also considering how to bring some of the engagement, dialogue and collaboration methods from my social and political philosophy and philosophy and persons courses to the computer science majors.

I’ve been writing quite a bit this month, and haven’t had too much time to delve into the applied ethics pedagogy literature, but I did come across an interesting recent essay (being married to a librarian has many perks!).

Daniel Hartner’s article appeared in Teaching Philosophy and it asks what the proper content is for professional ethics courses. He notes there’s an important distinction between different conceptions of ethics that may be involved in building and teaching applied ethics classes. As someone who has experience in developing course content for ethics courses, but not applied ethics courses, I hadn’t considered this before. From the abstract:

What is the proper content of a course in professional ethics, such as business ethics, engineering ethics, or medical ethics? Though courses in professional ethics have been present in colleges and universities for decades, the question remains largely unsettled, even among philosophers. This state of affairs helps to sustain and even exacerbate public misconceptions about ethics and professional ethical training in higher education. I argue that the proper content of such courses remains a potential source of confusion because the term ‘ethics’ is ambiguous between philosophical and nonphilosophical forms of normative inquiry into behavior, where the former involves broad, context-sensitive reflection on moral obligation, and the latter involves the narrower analysis and codification of behavioral norms with less sensitivity to context. Failure to distinguish between these two senses of ethics can result in conflicting conceptions of and expectations for training and courses in professional ethics. I sketch some of the specific problems generated by the ambiguity. I conclude by proposing an initial step toward a solution, one which focuses on making more explicit the distinction between courses that aim to teach professional policy and “best practices” and those that encourage genuine philosophical inquiry into morality and the good life.

Is this a distinction you account for in writing applied ethics courses —  in your introductory material, or at certain points throughout a course, or in some other way? What’s your take on it? The full essay is currently available online.