Cathy Davidson

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Cathy Davidson
Cathy Davidson
Cathy Davidson in 2015
Occupation Professor, Writer
Title Distinguished Professor of English and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative
Awards Educator of the Year (2012)
Ernest L. Boyer Award (2016)
Academic work
Discipline English
Institutions City University of New York
Duke University
Notable works Now You See It
The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

Cathy N. Davidson is an American scholar and university professor. Beginning July 1, 2014, she is Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is also the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor Emerita of English at Duke University and held a second distinguished chair as the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies since 2006. She served in leadership roles at Duke and a variety of organizations and has authored or edited 18 books. Her work for the last decade has focused on technology, collaboration, cognition, learning, and the digital age.

Background and education[edit]

Davidson was born in Chicago, received a B.A. from Elmhurst College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Binghamton University, and did postdoctoral studies at the University of Chicago. She has received honorary doctorates from Elmhurst College and Northwestern University.[1] Prior to joining the faculty of Duke, Davidson was a professor of English at Michigan State University.


Davidson served as Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University from 1998 to 2006, with administrative responsibility for over 60 research programs in Duke’s nine academic and professional schools.[2] She was responsible for designing technologies for research, teaching, and learning, and in 1999 helped create ISIS, the program in Information Science + Information Studies at Duke.[3] Davidson also worked with colleagues to help create the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

In 2002, Davidson co-founded (with David Theo Goldberg) the virtual organization HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), an international organization dedicated to rethinking the future of learning for the information age.[4]

In 2003, Davidson initiated a program at Duke, in conjunction with Apple, to give free iPods to each member of the incoming class with no other requirements. This sparked harsh criticism and ridicule from the academic community and news media.[5] The program was viewed as a success by Duke since it led to new applications for the iPod in an educational environment and inspired a new initiative among Duke students to innovate and collaborate.[6][7][8]

During the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case, Davidson and 87 other Duke faculty members, sometimes referred to as the "Group of 88", published an open letter calling for Duke to dismiss the team and its players. The open letter gained additional prominence when the defense attorney for the lacrosse players requested a change of venue while citing the advertisement as evidence of Duke faculty bias against the players.[9] In response to criticism of the ad, Davidson published a piece in the Raleigh News & Observer in January 2007. She stated that the ad was a response “to the anguish of students who felt demeaned by racist and sexist remarks swirling around in the media and on the campus quad in the aftermath of what happened on March 13 in the lacrosse house.”[10]

In 2010, President Obama nominated her to a six-year term on the National Council on the Humanities, a position confirmed by the Senate in July 2011.[11] Davidson serves on the Board of Advisors to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Digital Media and Learning" book series. She is a former President of the American Studies Association and former editor of the journal American Literature.[12] She lectures and consults on interdisciplinary, collaboration, digital literacy, virtual communities, and innovative learning-applications of new technologies.

In 2012, Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg received Educators of the Year awards[13] from the World Technology Network in recognition of “doing the innovative work of ‘the greatest likely long-term significance’ in their field”[14] of education through their work as co-founders of HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. She was also named the first educator on the six-person Board of Directors of Mozilla.[15]

In 2016, the New American Colleges and Universities (NAC&U) awarded Davidson the prestigious Ernest L. Boyer Award for significant contributions to American higher education.[16]


Davidson teaches a class every year called This Is Your Brain on the Internet. The class is on neuroscience as well as management and collaboration theory. It is a non-traditional class in which students take turns teaching the class. They are provided a syllabus, but are free to make their own assignments, which, Davidson says, they always do. The teaching students have to grade the work they assign, and also get graded by the other students on their teaching.

Another example of the classes non-traditional nature is its midterm which has taken the form of an innovation challenge, in which all the students, in one day, must collaborate on a single paper answering a question of their choosing that best summarized the material in the course up to that point. They have to all sign off and will all get the same grade. Davidson said in an interview on Skepticality about the midterm, "They succeeded. It was incredible and I don't think they will every forget having gone through that experience and needless to say it was a very tricky way to get them to review everything they did in the first half of the class. It was very intense".[5]


Davidson is the author or editor of 18 books.[17] Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (a collaboration with documentary photographer Bill Bamberger) was a recipient of the Mayflower Cup Award for Non-Fiction. The photographs from Closing traveled to museums around the U.S. for four years, including the Smithsonian Museum of American History.[18][19][20]

She served as General Editor of the Oxford University Press Early American Women Writers Series[21][22][23] and, with Ada Norris, edited American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings by Zitkala-Sa, the first Penguin Classic devoted to a Native American author.[24][25]

Her book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn was named by Publishers Weekly "one of the top ten science books" of the Fall 2011 season".[26] One reviewer wrote: "She makes the case, through numerous examples and lucid argument, that we can do much better in aligning our schools, our workplaces and our lives, and that this will make us not only more successful as a society but more fulfilled as individuals."[27]


  • The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux (2017)[28]
  • Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (2011)[29]
  • "The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" with David Theo Goldberg (2010)[30]
  • Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory with Bill Bamberger (1998)[31]
  • The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States with Linda Wagner-Martin (1995)[32]
  • The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States with Linda Wagner-Martin (1995)[33]
  • Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan (1993; expanded edition, 2004)[34]
  • The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters (1992)
  • Reading in America: Literature and Social History (1989)
  • Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (1986; expanded edition 2004)
  • The Experimental Fictions of Ambrose Bierce: Structuring the Ineffable (1984)
  • Critical Essays on Ambrose Bierce (1982)


  1. ^ "Cathy N. Davidson" (faculty profile). English Department. Duke University. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  2. ^ Department of English at Duke University
  3. ^ Pessin, Greg (April 20, 1999). "University moves forward on broad humanities initiative". Duke University, The Chronicle. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  4. ^ "History". Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Derek Colanduno (30 August 2011). "Can YOU see the Gorilla?" (Podcast). Skeptic. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Duke University iPod First Year Experience Final Evaluations Report, June 2005, accessed July 2013,
  7. ^ "Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age". The Chronicle of Higher Education. August 26, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2012. 
  8. ^ Now You See It
  9. ^ Duke Professors Reject Calls to Apologize to Lacrosse Players Retrieved 15 May 2014
  10. ^ Cathy Davidson, “In the Aftermath of a Social Disaster,” Raleigh News & Observer, Jan 5, 2007, A18. Quoted in the book Institutional Failures
  11. ^ "Cathy Davidson Confirmed for the National Council on the Humanities (Updated)". Duke Today. June 2, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Cathy N. Davidson, Emeriti". Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  13. ^ "The World Technology Network". Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  14. ^ "The World Technology Summit and Awards 2012". Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  15. ^ "Board/CathyDavidson - MozillaWiki". Retrieved 2016-03-19. 
  16. ^ "NAC&U to Honor Cathy Davidson with Ernest L. Boyer Award". NAC&U: New American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved 2016-03-19. 
  17. ^✓&sort=original_publication_year, accessed 5/30/13
  18. ^ "Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory: Photographs by Bill Bamberger". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Past Exhibitions". North Carolina Museum of Art. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory". Yale University Art Gallery. 
  21. ^ "Early American Women Writers". Oxford University Press. 
  22. ^ "Early American Women Writers Series". Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States". Oxford Reference. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  24. ^ Ruark, Jennifer (February 7, 2003). "Penguin to Spotlight American Indian Writer's Works as Part of Revamped Classics Series". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Penguin Classics American Indian Stories". Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  26. ^ Gold, Sarah (June 27, 2011). "Fall 2011 Announcements: Science: From Big Questions to the Brain". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  27. ^ Trapani, Josh. "Now You See It review". Book review. The Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved Aug 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ Calhoun, Craig (August 23, 2017). "An Educator Makes the Case That Higher Learning Needs to Grow Up". Review of Davidson, The New Education. New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2017. Print version, The New York Times Book Review, August 27, 2017, p. 22, under title "Campus Choices: Can Colleges Do More to Adjust to Social and Economic Realities?"
  29. ^,,9781101517727,00.html?Now_You_See_It_Cathy_N._Davidson, accessed 1/29/13
  30. ^, accessed 2/13/13
  31. ^, accessed 5/29/13
  32. ^, accessed 5/30/13
  33. ^, accessed 5/30/13
  34. ^, accessed 5/30/13