History of the Center

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SIU Student Center

Initiated in 1961 as the "Co-operative Research on Dewey Publications," the Center for Dewey Studies began with the mission of publishing a concordance of John Dewey’s works. Coinciding with a renewed national interest in American philosophy, the climate at Southern Illinois University in the early 1960s brought together education professor George E. Axtelle, university press director Vernon Sternberg, and university president Delyte W. Morris who were interested in the project. Only three staff members (director George Axtelle, Jo Ann Boydston, and a student worker) worked on the project. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Axtelle left the project and Jo Ann Boydston became the director. 

With the completion of the thirty-seven volumes of the Collected Works and its index in 1991, the first mission of the Center for Dewey Studies ended and the staff began work on its next project: the Correspondence of John Dewey. Under its third director, Larry Hickman, the Center has published over 22,000 pieces of Dewey’s correspondence in four electronic volumes between 1991 and 2008. The Correspondence richly adds to the Dewey source materials, providing an understanding of Dewey’s life and the conversations which took place between Dewey and his colleagues as he researched and wrote his many works. The next publication project undertaken by the Center was the two-volume electronic Class Lectures of John Dewey. Released in 2010 and 2015, these volumes illustrate the development of Dewey’s ideas as they were presented in the classroom during his teaching career and culminating in his published works.

Over the years the Center for Dewey Studies has increased its standing as the premier research center for Dewey studies. In addition to the vast array of primary sources the Center accumulated, it also houses a unique and exclusive collection of secondary sources in the Works About Dewey digital collection, numbering over 10,000 individual items. Scholars from all over the globe travel to the Center to take advantage of these resources collected from over 200 archives and untold publications. Throughout its life the Center has worked to further the interest and understanding of Dewey’s ideas by cosponsoring many international conferences and has assisted in the establishment of six international Centers of Dewey Studies.

For an informative and detailed account of the early days of the Dewey Center, please read the article by former Director Jo Ann Boydston, "The Dewey Center and The Collected Works of John Dewey" (Free Inquiry Vol 13, No 1, Winter 1992/93). For an earlier account, see Boydston and Burnett, "The Dewey Project" (The Educational Forum, Vol 35 No 2, 1971).

To learn more about how Southern Illinois University came to be the home of the John Dewey Papers and Library, you can read "The John Dewey Papers Come to SIU-C" by Jo Ann Boydston (ICarbS Vol 1, Iss 1). 

The Center for Dewey Studies was temporarily closed from 2017-2022. At the time of its closing in 2017, former Co-Director Thomas Alexander wrote a retrospective of the Center that described more of the history, including a description of the work of the Center that took place after Boydston's account. Work on Dewey continued at SIU during this period, and many researchers (visiting and virtually) made use of SIU's resources through the Special Collections Research Center

2022 brought the hiring of Matthew J. Brown as Director of the Center for Dewey Studies and Jo Ann and Donald N. Boydston Chair of American Philosophy, and the gradual reopening of the Center. As of Spring 2023, the Center is open for classes, events, and open office hours 5 days a week.