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The advent of the so-called Information Age—characterized by both the overwhelming volume and bewildering speed of media sources—has not advanced a new age of deeper, more perceptive exploration of questions in the public square. The abundance of voices and commentators vying for public attention or political influence has, if anything, yielded superficial analysis, impatience for complexity, and argument unrooted in a deeper engagement with scholarly inquiry.

In this cacophony, the unique power of the humanities to offer perspective and insight has been too often drowned out—or sidelined in small, rarefied conversations largely inaccessible to a non-specialist, but engaged, citizenry. In the absence of that voice our public square becomes a place lacking tools of reflection and reference, and ill-equipped to separate bluster from substance. Thinkers and writers able to construct and develop a sustained argument relating both the perspective of the past and the prospect of the future to the context of the present have few effective outlets through which to offer their perspectives.

Public Works proposes to be just such a forum. Conceived as a “digital pamphlet” series, these works will seek out and make available the perspective of leading scholars in the humanities on questions emerging as having long-term significance in our public conversation, and demanding more discerning examination and penetrating insight. Shorter than monographs, these works will offer both authors and readers the freedom of long-form essays and the tools of digital media to see through the lens of the human experience the seemingly intractable questions confronting a complex, deeply interconnected, and sometimes shockingly violent world.

Essays published in the Public Works series will be available as open-access works of scholarship, immediately and freely available to readers and thinkers everywhere. As digital works, they will be published to the web and also downloadable to a variety of reading devices. They will also be available at a modest cost in print editions.