Cathy N. Davidson, educational innovator and a distinguished scholar of the history of technology, is an outspoken proponent of active ways of learning that help students to understand and navigate the radically changed global world in which we now all live, work, and learn. The 2016 recipient of the Ernest J. Boyer Award for Significant Contributions to Higher Education, she champions new ideas and methods for learning and professional development–in school, in the workplace, and in everyday life.

Davidson was appointed to the National Council on the Humanities by President Obama (2011-2017) and serves on the Board of Directors of Mozilla. A frequent speaker and consultant on institutional change at universities, non-profits, corporations, and other organizations, Davidson writes for the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, Times Higher Ed, as well as many other academic and trade publications in the U.S. and abroad. She has published some twenty books on technology, the history of the book, literature, education, and cognitive neuroscience, including Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America; 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; and Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

Her most recent book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, will be published in September of 2017 by Basic Books. The title recalls Harvard President Charles Eliot’s 1869 manifesto which laid the groundwork for reshaping the Puritan college into the modern university, designed to train and credential America’s new professional-managerial class. Instead, Davidson argues, we need a “new education” to transform the university we have inherited for the one we need now. Rather than resisting new technologies, she places them in the context of past technological changes and helps us to master them in order that they do not master us.  “I would not now be a good analyst of the Internet as cultural, political, and technological force,” Davidson has said, “if I had not been trained as a historian of the book as a cultural, political, and technological force.”

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.”

Prior to coming to the Graduate Center, Davidson held two distinguished chairs at Duke University, Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies.  She also served as the University’s (and the nation’s) first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. In this novel role, she was charged with creating innovative programs across all of the boundaries of the university’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. 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 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 15,000 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 $10 million in grant funding to support 90 innovative projects operating in more than twenty countries.  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.”