The Great Ideas: The University of Chicago and the Ideal of Liberal Education

Mortimer Adler and assistants working on the Great Books Index

Mortimer Adler and assistants working on the Great Books Index (Archival Photographic Files).

Exhibition curated by Jay Satterfield, Special Collections Research Center Head of Reader Services.

In the 1930s, Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins set out to infuse the University of Chicago curriculum with the spirit of the "Great Books" program developed by Adler's mentor John Erskine. Their project helped to shape the College's celebrated core and eventually led to the University's collaborative efforts with William Benton and the Encyclopaedia Britannica and with Walter Paepcke, founder of the Aspen Institute, to spread the gospel of the "Great Ideas." The discussion surrounding this experiment in liberal education reflects the aims and goals of the University of Chicago during the Hutchins era while illuminating broader intellectual battles waged over the role of "culture" in American life. Drawing on the papers of Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, William Benton and Walter Paepcke, this exhibition explores the cultural milieu that made the "Great Ideas" central to the University's educational mission both on and off campus.

Exhibit Publications & Documents

Exhibit Text

Exhibit Checklist