The News and Observer, John Rottet

AAC&U Frederic W. Ness Book Award Winner for 2019

Cathy N. Davidson is the Founding Director of the Futures Initiative and a Distinguished Professor in the Ph.D. Program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY and in the MA Program in Digital Humanities and the MS Program in Data Analysis and Visualization. She is also co-director of the CUNY Humanities Alliance, a program in partnership with LaGuardia Community College, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and dedicated to preparing graduate students for careers teaching in community colleges and co-PI of the Teagle Foundation-supported CUNY-wide Undergraduate Peer Leadership and Mentoring Program.

Davidson is the Cofounding Director  (2002-2017) and, now, Co-Director (with Prof Jacqueline Wernimont of Arizona State University) of HASTAC, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (, the world’s first and oldest academic social network.  HASTAC has over 16,500 network members “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn” under the HASTAC motto: “Difference is our operating system.” She was co-PI of Digital Media and Learning Competitions, administered by HASTAC and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These competitions awarded more than $13 million in grant funding to over one hundred innovative learning projects operating in twenty countries.

Davidson previously taught at Duke University for more than two decades, where she was the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. From 1998 to 2006, she also served as Duke University’s (and the nation’s) first Vice Provost of Interdisciplinary Studies, working with administrators, faculty, and students to design more than seventy pioneering new cross-campus programs, technologies, and institutes.

Davidson is a renowned scholar of cultural history and technology, including the history of the book, the history of industrialism and postindustrialism, digital humanities, and the impact of new technologies on culture, cognition, learning, and the workplace. Currently, her scholarship focuses on the future of higher education and the best ways to transform higher education while yet supporting its crucial educational and social mission. Her most recent book is The New Education: How To Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux (Basic Books). The New Education was awarded the 2019 AAC&U Frederic W. Ness Book Award.

She has published more than twenty books, including Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (Oxford University Press, expanded edition, 2004); Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (with documentary photographer Bill Bamberger); The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, with David Theo Goldberg (MIT Press, 2010), and Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking, 2011). A frequent speaker and consultant on institutional change at universities, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations, she writes for the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Washington Post, and Times Higher Ed, among others.

President Obama appointed her to the National Council on the Humanities (2011-2017). In 2012, Davidson was named the first educator to serve on the board of directors of Mozilla, and, in 2012, she received the Educator of the Year Award (with HASTAC cofounder David Theo Goldberg) from the World Technology Network. She is the 2016 recipient of the Ernest J. Boyer Award for Significant Contributions to Higher Education.

The Futures Initiative

In 2014, Davidson moved to the Graduate Center, The City University of New York, where she is a Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative. Dedicated to advancing innovation and equity in higher education, the Futures Initiative champions public re-investment in higher education as a social good necessary for a progressive, democratic society. Graduate Center President Chase F. Robinson has noted that Davidson’s move to CUNY, the largest public urban university system in the nation, “provides the ideal incubator for her visionary ideas about twenty-first-century learning and teaching.”

The iPod Experiment and Other Innovations at Duke University

As Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies (the first at Duke or at any university), Davidson was charged with creating innovative programs across all of the boundaries of the university’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and in partnership with other universities and the community. She worked with faculty and students to design over seventy collaborative cutting-edge programs, including the Program in Information Science and Studies and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience as well as the University Scholars Program (in partnership with and supported by Duke alumna and former trustee, Melinda French Gates).  

At Duke, these innovations included the famous “iPod experiment.” In 2004. incoming Duke students were given free iPods and challenged to design an array of new learning applications for what, at the time, was billed solely as a popular “music listening device.” Duke students invented dozens of educational uses for the iPod, held the world’s first academic “podcasting” conference, and beta-developed bi-directional broadcasting (what would become iTunes U) and video capacities.  She has written about this experiment as “Project Classroom Makeover” in her influential Now You See It, which was named a “top 10 science book” of the year by Publisher’s Weekly.  


Davidson is the co-founder and director (2002-2017; now co-director) of the world’s first and oldest academic social network, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory ( or “haystack”). Since 2002, HASTAC has grown to over 16,500 members dedicated to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn” under the motto “Difference is our operating system.”  She is a frequent speaker at academic, public, and corporate events around the world, including in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Kuala Lumpur, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, and the UK.

With HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg, Davidson is co-PI of the Digital Media and Learning Competitions, administered by HASTAC and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These competitions have awarded more than $13 million in grant funding to support 100 innovative projects around the world. She and Goldberg were recipients of the 2012 Educator of the Year Award from the World Technology Network for “Visionary Contribution to Science and Technology in Education.”  


Davidson blogs regularly as Cat in the Stack on You can follow @CathyNDavidson on Twitter.

For speaking engagements, Cathy Davidson is represented by Leigh Bureau.

For publishing and book rights, Cathy Davidson is represented by Mullane Literary Associates.

In honor of the publication of The New Education, the author contributes to a scholarship fund established at the Graduate Center, CUNY.