The Liberal Arts: why they matter more than ever

An exclusive lecture by Dr Roosevelt Montás

Roosevelt Montás

What is the effect of reading a whole curriculum of ‘Great Books’? Can prolonged exposure to such texts radically alter the course of a life? Can they speak to people from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds? In the sixth Ramsay Lecture for 2022, Columbia University academic, Dr Roosevelt Montás evidences, from his own life-story, how the Great Books can lift people out of their circumstances and transform lives.

The personal transformation of Dr Montás is detailed in his 2021 volume, Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed my Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation. In his book, Dr Montás describes how, as a poor immigrant schoolboy from the Dominican Republic with limited English, he made a chance discovery of ‘beautiful editions’ of Socrates and Shakespeare in the neighbourhood trash in Queens, New York. His determination to read these books, to understand their ‘compelling narratives’, saw him begin a journey of discovery that took him from his lowly neighbourhood high school to study at the prestigious Ivy League Columbia University. There he rose to direct the University’s world-famous Core Curriculum, a required set of courses organized around the study of great works principally (but not exclusively) in the Western tradition, taken in common by every undergraduate. Dr Montás led the world-renowned Core Curriculum, which celebrated its centennial in 2019, for almost a decade and he is now one of America’s most passionate advocates for the liberal arts: specifically, the study of the canonical works that so radically altered his life trajectory.

Please join us for this special and insightful recorded conversation between Dr Roosevelt Montás and Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines.


Roosevelt Montás

Dr Roosevelt Montás is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University and the former director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum (2008-2018). He was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York as a teenager, where he attended public schools in Queens before entering Columbia College in 1991 through its Opportunity Programs. In 2003, he completed a PhD in English, also at Columbia; his dissertation, Rethinking America, won Columbia University’s 2004 Bancroft Award. In 2000, he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student and in 2008, he received the Dominican Republic’s National Youth Prize. He regularly teaches moral and political philosophy in the Columbia Core Curriculum as well seminars in American Studies. He is also director of the Center for American Studies’ Freedom and Citizenship Program, which brings low-income high school students to the Columbia campus to study political theory and then helps them prepare successful applications to college.

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