Project Title: The Meanings of Property
Project Description: A four-week interdisciplinary NEH summer institute for twenty-five college and university faculty to explore the changing definitions of property, June, 2014, in Poughkeepsie, New York, located in the Hudson River Valley.
Dates: June 1 – 27, 2014
Project Director: Ann E. Davis, Associate Professor of Economics, Marist College
Is property a God-given natural right for human self-preservation? Is property a method of controlling other humans, such as women and slaves? Is property a means of exploitation and accumulation, or is it an essential mediator between the individual and social dimensions of life? Such questions can be found in many different disciplines, often without dialogue or interrogation. This summer institute provides the opportunity to explore these different narratives in the company of leading scholars and teachers from a range of disciplines, in a beautiful setting by the Hudson River. Successful applicants will receive stipends from NEH.
This interdisciplinary summer institute will focus on “Meanings of Property,” inviting notable scholars in related fields to Poughkeepsie, New York, coordinated by Ann E. Davis, Project Director and Associate Professor of Economics at Marist College. The 25 participating college and university professors in the summer institute will engage in discussion with Mary Poovey, literary scholar at New York University, Alan Ryan, Professor of Political Science at Princeton University, John R. Searle, Professor of Philosophy from University of California at Berkeley, Hendrik Hartog, Professor of History at Princeton University, Stuart Banner, Professor of Law at the University of California at Los Angeles, Kenneth Pomeranz, Professor of History at University of Chicago, and Robert J. Goldstein, Professor of Law at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They will also meet Marist Academic Vice President and Hudson Valley historian Thomas Wermuth, as well as Director of the Hudson River Valley Institute Col. James Johnson, former military historian at West Point, and participate in historic site visits to New York City and in the Hudson Valley region.
The concept of property has been central in modern legal and political theory, as a foundation for economic institutions, and as an instrument for individual freedom. The protection of individual private property was the motive for the “social contract” by which the state was formed. Property also motivates individual initiative, informs international relations, as well as provides the underlying rationales for global cooperation. Property is ostensibly a rock solid foundation for the economy and the society, with presumable material reality.
The conventional meaning of property is self-evident and invariant: it is a concrete tangible object. Recent work in linguistic philosophy, literary studies, legal theory, and economic sociology, nonetheless, has discussed property as an institution, as an example of a “social fact.” That is, authoritative public declarations both create and describe certain institutions, like money and property. For example, property in a parcel of land can be created by issuing a legal title, which then authorizes the designated owner to sue any intruders for trespass within its boundaries. Once recognized and accepted by individuals, these declarations then coordinate and guide their actions. This collective recognition constitutes social institutions, based on shared understanding and acceptance of common purpose and legitimate behavior. Such a “social fact” becomes true because each person treats it as an accurate description of everyone’s behavior.
This alternative institutional meaning of property could change the perspectives of public policy makers and scholars, as well as citizens. This summer institute will explore the relevance and persuasiveness of various contrasting perspectives on property. In a time in which the term “property” applies to genetic code, water rights, literary works, land, ideas, financial assets, and software code, this summer institute will prepare participants to engage in further research, exploration, and teaching. The Institute welcomes participants in all disciplines, including history, philosophy, political science, economics, legal studies, sociology, gender studies, religion, science studies, and literary studies, as well as alternate points of view.
Marist College is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the center of the historic Hudson Valley directly on the shore of the Hudson River. Participants will have access to the libraries of Marist, Vassar, the New York Historical Society, and other nearby historic sites. The college is an easy commute to New York City and to Albany, and the Catskill Mountains. The Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College has archives and resources regarding the history of the region, and the Marist College library has original documents regarding the twentieth century environmental movement.
Each participant’s individual contribution to the success of the project is essential. Consequently the most important part of the application process is the four-page application essay. Applications should be sent to the director and not the NEH.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information and application instructions, see
See also resources at the Hudson River Valley Institute.