Established in 2017, the Classics Institute has been charged by Dakota State University with the mission of investigating the ethical, social, and existential condition of humankind, forty years into the computer revolution. Described by President José-Marie Griffiths as “Dakota State’s think-tank,” the institute forms the humanities component of the MadLabs project: Dakota State’s multifaceted hub for education and research in cybersecurity and cyber operations. Directed by Joseph Bottum, a nationally known public intellectual and bestselling author with deep family roots in the state, the Classics Institute is poised to become both a major academic resource for South Dakota and a national center of thought about the meaning of technology.
The Classics Institute begins with the proposition that the computer revolution has made the humanities more vital than ever. Literature and history, philosophy and theology, political theory and jurisprudence—the great deposit of thought through millennia of human civilization—provide the ground for understanding our current condition. We must abandon the idea that if only we had better computers and better algorithms, life would be perfected, with all the vain past left behind. In the words of the school’s Arts & Science dean Benjamin F. Jones, “We have studied computers long enough at Dakota State University to realize that’s a losing proposition.”
Financed by grants from governmental, corporate, and non-profit organizations, and by gifts from private funders, the Classics Institute insists that we must cheer the computer revolution as a great advance in civilization—and that at the same time we must be suspicious about its effects. In support of these foundational beliefs, the institute hosts lectures, directs big-data text and historical research, investigates sociological trends, and ponders economic movements. Born from worries about the use of technology in security strategies, the institute takes as its special concern the gains and losses of liberty—of human freedom and social privacy—in these days of the massive gathering of data.
The computer revolution has created enormous change, for good and for ill. And Dakota State’s Classic Institute exists to think and speak, loudly and publicly, about both that good and that ill.