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University of Southern California

USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

“A polymath is one who not only mastered one or several disciplines, but one who uniquely synthesized them, integrated them. ”—Sidney Harman

News and Updates

Weimar in Los Angeles: a 3-day Workshop

Weimar in Los Angeles: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunity in a New Cultural Frontier

The Legatum Institute and USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study at the USC Libraries announce an exciting collaborative workshop, Weimar Exiles in Los Angeles: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunity in a New Cultural Frontier. From Wednesday, August 28 through Friday, August 30, we will explore themes of creativity, opportunity and entrepreneurship through a historical lens, with a particular examination of the period between the two world wars. Our focus: German exiles in LA.  This was a period of exceptional dynamism and innovation in film, art, music, literature, science and technology. Figures like Billy Wilder, Thomas Mann and others—a creative minority in exile—played a vital role. Can this snap shot in history shine a light on the present in any way? How can different disciplines learn from each other to open new perspectives in problem solving, adaptation and innovation? We know there are no simple answers or formulas to these big themes, but through this symposium we aim to create an environment, which stirs debate and sparks the imagination. In era of increased hyper-specialization, our approach is a different one.  We believe there is a great benefit in stepping back, thinking broadly, and gaining new perspectives. Pursuing a polymathic (integrated, interdisciplinary) approach to research and discovery enables us to advance new, unconventional ideas and interpretations; and studying the past will help us gain insight into the present and think creatively about the future.


In an era of increased hyper-specialization, the value of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the complexities of our world is increasingly undervalued and overlooked. There is a great benefit in stepping back, thinking widely, gaining new perspectives and weaving together strands of inquiry into knowledge anchored in process and narrative. The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, and the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study at the USC Libraries, promote a multidisciplinary approach as a means of advancing new ideas and fostering innovation.

The Weimar in Los Angeles workshop is a joint project that applies this multidisciplinary approach to a complex moment in cultural history to discover the origins of innovation, how a free society promotes creativity and entrepreneurship, and how a deep understanding of the human experience can inform our thinking on contemporary challenges.

For more information, please visit our websites at:


The Weimar Republic, though an all-to-brief and politically instable interwar period, was an intense culturally creative moment in German and European history.  While it proved a political and economic failure, it fostered German modernism and unleashed creative energies in music, film, art, and literature.  The violent unrest and reactionary politics that emerged during the Great Depression in Germany—culminating in the catastrophic election of the Nazi Party 80 years ago in 1933—forced many artists to flee to the United States, in search of freedom to pursue their work.

Interestingly, many of these cultural figures eschewed New York, Boston, and other more familiar American cultural centres for the sunnier and less-established city of Los Angeles, California.  Relatively undeveloped before World War II, LA was both a cultural tabula rasa—open and eager to receiving a weighty European influence—and a bastion of middlebrow American cultural conservatism.  This unique mix of newness, freedom, and democratic cultural norms transformed German modernism and American arts.

The program will explore how the liberty of American democracy, the unique setting of Los Angeles, and the complex cultural and political heritage of Weimar Germany intersected to create a new, unique, and lasting contemporary artistic form and its impact on today’s world.  Can this snap shot in history shine a light on the present in any way?

Spring 2016 Series

Quadrant Series with Edwin McCann

The Academy for Polymathic Study guides its enquiries through four flexible pathways or Quadrants:  (1) critical and integrative thinking; (2) study of the polymaths; (3) the tapestry of knowledge; and (4) communication.

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Undergraduate Series:

Polymathic Pizza, Part II: Speculative Futures

What will our world look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years? How can we imagine, prepare for, and influence future trajectories of our planet in terms of governance, sustainability, and co-existence? The spring 2016 Polymathic Pizza series brings together faculty and students from diverse disciplines and interests to speculate on the future and to explore how we might have a hand in shaping it.

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Polymathic Workshops, Panels, and Special Events

In Spring 2016, the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study is partnering with leading global and academic institutions and scholars, holding workshops and symposia to explore topics and issues from a polymathic perspctive.   

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The Goethe Society

The Goethe Society, an undergraduate organization affiliated with the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, will continue its enjoyment of the cultural resources of the USC campus and greater Los Angeles. 

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