History of the Seminars

The Gauss Seminars in Criticism were conceived in 1949 by Richard P. Blackmur (1904-1965), one of America’s foremost literary critics and one of Princeton’s most distinguished Professors of English. The seminars were named in memory of Christian Gauss (1878-1951), one of Woodrow Wilson’s original preceptors. Gauss was Dean of the College from 1925 to 1946, and for many years, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages.

Several seminars are held with the aim of providing a focus for discussion, study, and the exchange of ideas in the humanities. The seminars take different forms, but traditionally they have been conducted by guests invited to present material upon which they are working. Past seminar leaders have included Erich Auerbach, Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Noam Chomsky, Roman Jakobson, Elaine Scarry, Joan Scott, and Raymond Bellour. Faculty and graduate students from Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the community at large participate in each seminar.

The first director of Gauss Seminars was Francis Fergusson, who led the initial seminars in 1949. He was followed by R. P. Blackmur (1957–1965), Joseph Frank (1966–1975), and several others, including Victor Brombert (1986–1989), Michael Wood (1995–2001), Hal Foster, Daniel Heller-Roazen (2007–2014), and Andrew Cole (2015–2022). Brooke Holmes (Classics) is the current director of the Gauss Seminars; she began her term in Fall 2023.

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