2021 Innovation Award: Call for Proposals
Since the mid-twentieth century, proponents of progress have presented innovation as a panacea to the malaise of late-capitalism, variously equating it with creativity, entrepreneurship, and technological progress. However, as scholars like Benoît Godin, Alexander Mazzaferro, and John Patrick Leary have demonstrated, innovation was understood in the early modern period to be a risky affair—dangerous not only for the innovator but for the systems in which they worked.
If innovation has meant many things to many people—a charge of heresy (the Reformation) and sedition (the French Revolution), and a tool for social justice (nineteenth-century social reformers) and economic prosperity (federal intervention in the post-war period)—then an awareness of its definitional ambiguity might enable richer historical scholarship.
Situating innovation in a longer historical framework reveals the insufficiency of today’s techno-utopian discourse. Acknowledging the term’s inherent tensions invites a more contextual and germinal interpretation of innovation, grounded in humanistic methods.
The Library Company invites submissions for its 2021 Innovation Award.
For our starting point, we return to the term’s Latin etymology, innovare: to renew or to make new again. Grounded in its religious context (the recovery of the soul), innovation, as we envision it, enables both inward and outward inquiry. Inward inquiry might take the form of a meta-critical project that challenges the disciplinary cultures and practices in which it was produced; outward inquiry might pursue modes of production and dissemination that enlist new audiences, allies, or contributors.
We want to see work whose urgency renews disciplinary engagements with broader social issues, chafes against disciplinary boundaries, or whose content or forms might not be legible as scholarship within the university rewards structures. In short, we want to do our small part to catalyze experimentation and adaptation in the humanities, and we want you to surprise us.
The Innovation Award
The Library Company of Philadelphia Innovation Award will be awarded to a recent project that critically and creatively expands the possibilities of humanistic scholarship.