Allies and Rivals

During the nineteenth century, nearly ten thousand Americans traveled to Germany to study in universities renowned for their research and teaching. By the mid–twentieth century, American institutions led the world. How did America become the center of higher education excellence? And what does that story reveal about who will lead in the twenty-first century?

Allies and Rivals is the first history of the ascent of American higher education told through the lens of German-American exchange. In a series of compelling portraits of such leaders as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Martha Carey Thomas, and W.E.B. Du Bois, Emily J. Levine shows how academic innovators on both sides of the Atlantic competed and collaborated to shape the research university. Even as nations sought world dominance through scholarship, universities retained values apart from politics and economics. Open borders enabled Americans to unite the English college and German PhD to create the modern research university, a hybrid replicated the world over.

In a captivating narrative spanning one hundred years Levine upends notions of the university as a timeless ideal, restoring universities to their rightful place in history. In so doing she reveals that innovation in the twentieth century was rooted in international cooperation—a crucial lesson that bears remembering today.

“Best higher education book of the year … and may be the best history of higher education of any type in the last decade.  It is, quite simply, genius – not just because it tells an old story in a unique way, but also because it challenges certain well-worn parts of the legend and shows us how the trade-offs made in designing the research university more than a century ago remain relevant today.”
Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates 

“In her meticulously researched, sweeping tale of the modern research university, Levine shows how American higher education was inspired by the University of Berlin, and how this model was transformed on American soil, in constant competition with Germany, into the educational landscape we have in the United States today — for better and for worse….Allies and Rivals  illuminates the historical roots of a problem central to higher education: while many teachers strive to introduce progressive ideas and ideals, the research university itself is a conservative institution, wedded to stability at the expense of radical innovation.”
—Sophie Duvernoy, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Levine’s insightful, engaging account of the modern university’s origins tells a compelling story of the university’s key role as a bridge between state and society. But Allies and Rivals also offers a haunting narrative of how that relationship can sour. This close historical comparison of the origins of the university in Germany and the United States is full of rich detail that ultimately offers a powerful and prescient warning from the past about the possibilities of the present.”
—Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University

“In another breakthrough study, Levine reconstructs the transatlantic history of how higher learning became associated with the now familiar institutional setting of the research university—a history with great relevance to our own need to reimagine education for a new era. With its examination of national and urban competition over a century, alongside diffusion, entrepreneurship, and hybridization, Allies and Rivals is a new kind of history of the unfinished project of education, and a warrant to reconsider the ongoing transformation of our own institutions today.”
—Samuel Moyn, Yale University

Allies and Rivals is a beautifully researched and written exploration of the modern research university. It reveals the modern university to be a thing of paradox, a product of modernity and of international exchange, a jewel in the crown of the US-German relationship, and no less a product of competition, nationalism, and of the many disruptions that mark the history of the early twentieth century. Levine has contributed a path-breaking study of ideas, institutions, and international affairs—an extraordinary and riveting story.”
—Michael Kimmage, The Catholic University of America

“Anyone interested in the bargain with the state and society would benefit from reading Allies and Rivals to understand where we are today, how we got here, and how the relationship between higher education, the state, and society more broadly must and can benefit all three.”
—Catharine B. Hill, senior trustee of Yale University and former president of Vassar College

Dreamland of Humanists Book Cover


Dreamland of Humanists

Deemed by Heinrich Heine a city of merchants where poets go to die, Hamburg was an improbable setting for a major intellectual movement. Yet it was there, at the end of World War I, at a new university in this commercial center, that a trio of twentieth-century pioneers in the humanities emerged. Working side by side, Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, and Erwin Panofsky developed new avenues in art history, cultural history, and philosophy, changing the course of cultural and intellectual history in Weimar Germany and throughout the world.

In Dreamland of Humanists, Emily J. Levine considers not just these men, but the historical significance of the time and place where their ideas took form. Shedding light on the origins of their work on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Levine clarifies the social, political, and economic pressures faced by German-Jewish scholars on the periphery of Germany’s intellectual world. By examining the role that context plays in our analysis of ideas, Levine confirms that great ideas—like great intellectuals—must come from somewhere.

“In arguing for the importance of place and social setting in the formation of ideas, Levine crosses as many scholarly disciplines as Aby Warburg’s Library of the Science of Culture did in its heyday. . . . Levine shows how crucially time, place, and people can affect what we finally study and ponder; but in the end, if we are lucky, we all make our own Dreamland of Humanists with the materials at hand.”
—The New Republic

“If there is any example of an intellectual history with its feet on the ground, then it would be Levine’s thoroughly researched and beautifully told story of the Warburg Library. More than a book about a place, an institution, and a handful of intellectuals, Dreamland of Humanists is an unparalleled geography of twentieth-century intellectual life, and a key to its countless codes and mysteries.”
—German History

“Levine’s is the work of a historian, and, although she affiliates herself with other modes of inquiry too, her book sits squarely in the tradition of the history of ideas: she reads the texts of important intellectual figures, and she gives them fresh valence by reading them against the backgrounds of their various contexts.”
—Journal of the History of Ideas


American Historical Association: Herbert Baxter Adams Prize

Finalist, Association for Jewish Studies: Jordan Schnitzer Book Award