John Toews

  • Professor Emeritus

Ph.D. Harvard University, 1973

Fields: European Intellectual and Cultural History
Phone: 206-543-9855
Office: SMI 312A |
Curriculum Vitae:

I am an historian of modern Western intellectual and cultural history, with a specific focus on Europe since the Eighteenth Century .  My teaching and scholarship investigates the emergence and transformation of historical consciousness in Western cultures over the past two centuries.  My work has been particularly focused on reconstructing the cultural assumptions and ethical implications embedded in the texts of influential historical thinkers on the nineteenth-century German tradition, from Hegel to Freud.  I also examine the ways in which thinking of human existence as essentially historical has been articulated in musical compositions and in the spatial forms of architecture and urban planning. In all of my work I try to connect the reconstruction of past thinking to the dilemma of living our own lives, both individually and collectively, with an expanded understanding of our humble status as heterogeneous products of multiple pasts and of our responsibility as makers of the future. Most recently I have turned my attention to the analysis of the shifting cultural frameworks through which temporality is experienced in the contemporary world, and on the ways in which such transformations suggest a need to revise  our customary ways of imagining personal and collective narrative.

At the University of Washington, I am probably  best known for my role in developing the Comparative History of Ideas Program ( CHID) into a national model for innovative interdisciplinary undergraduate education, and into  the second largest Humanities major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Trusting students to participate as full partners with faculty and staff in shaping their curriculum, focusing on project-based and collaborative learning, intensive international experience, public service and constant critical self-reflection, CHID has reinvigorated the traditions of a liberal arts education within the context of responsible global citizenship. The courses I teach in the History Department articulate my interdisciplinary proclivities and are usually cross-listed with the CHID program. I have directed a quarter-long Foreign Study in Berlin a number of times during the last decade that centers on the analysis of architecture and public space as an archive of historical memory and national identity formation.  In recent years I have focused my undergraduate teaching on a series of courses devoted to Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as mentors of modern cultural critique. My seminars at both the graduate and undergraduate level are thematically focused and usually designed to appeal to collaborative investigation across the disciplines. 

My most recent publications- essays on the parallels between Mahler and Freud, on the problem of Secularization in Nineteenth Century, on the integration of musical culture into intellectual and cultural history and on the dilemmas facing historical thinking in the wake of the fading of postmodernism and the so-called “linguistic turn”,  represent different facets of my interest in the task of thinking historically about thinking historically in the contemporary era.  My most substantial earlier scholarly works—Hegelianism : the Path Toward Dialectical Humanism (1980) and Becoming Historical: Cultural  Reformation and Public Memory in Early Nineteenth-Century Berlin (2004)—are focused on the emergence of modern historical consciousness in the nineteenth century.  I am currently working on a study of the emergence of modern conceptions of individual identity and self-autonomy in the work of Sigmund Freud, and of the ways in which these conceptions imply new ways of imagining the formation of the self in historical time.

After teaching for six years at Columbia University in New York City I came to the University of Washington in the fall of 1979. I became the Director of CHID after my promotion to Associate Professor of History in 1981. From 1984-89 I was the lucky recipient of a MacArthur Prize fellowship and in 1996-97 I was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.   I was the Alumni Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2006-2007 and was chosen to give the 31st Annual Faculty Lecture in Spring of 2007.  From 2008 to 2010 I held the Giovanni Costigan Endowed Professorship in History and from 2012 to 2015 served as the Joff Hanauer Distinguished University Professor for Western Civilization in the College of Arts and Sciences.   

List of Courses Taught:

HIST//CHID 309:   Marx and the Marxist Tradition in Western Thought: Mentors of Modern Cultural Critique I

HIST/CHID 319: Nietzsche and the Nietzschean Legacy in Western Thought: Foundations of Modern Cultural Critique II

HIST/CHID 314: Freud and the Psychoanalytic Revolution in Historical Perspective:  Mentors of Modern Cultural Critique III

CHID 390: The Interpretation of Texts and Cultures: The Problem of Identity  



Becoming Historical: Cultural Reformation and Public Memory in Early Nineteenth-Century Berlin(Cambridge University Press, 2004). 
Winner of the Hans Rosenberg Prize of the American Historical Association for the best book in German and Central European History published in 2004-2005

"Refashioning the Masculine Subject in Early Modernism", in Marke Micale, ed. The Mind of Modernism: Medicine, Psychology and the Cultural Arts in Europe and America 1880-1940 ( Stanford University Press, 2003).

"The Linguistic Turn and Discourse Analysis in History," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Elsevier Press, 2001), XIII, 8916-1932.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, edited with a selection of documents and an historical introduction (Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999).

"Having and Being: The Evolution of Freud's Oedipus Theory as a Moral Fable, in Michael Roth ed.,Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture ( Alfred Knopf, 1998).

Hegelianism:The Path Toward Dialectical Humanism, 1805-1841 (Cambridge University Press, 1981).