E. D. Hirsch, Jr. bigraphy, stories - Literary

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. : biography

March 22, 1928 -

Eric Donald Hirsch, Jr. (born March 22, 1928) is an American educator and academic literary critic. Now retired, he was until recently the University Professor of Education and Humanities and the Linden Kent Memorial Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He is best known for his writings about cultural literacy.

Fellowships, awards, and memberships

Hirsch has been awarded several fellowships and honors, including the Fulbright Fellowship (1955), the Morse Fellowship (1960), the Guggenheim Fellowship (1964), the Explicator Prize (1965), the NEA Fellowship (1970), the NEH Senior Fellowship (1971-71), the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities Fellowship (1973), the Princeton University Fellowship in the Humanities (1977), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship at Stanford University (1980–81).

He has received honorary degrees from Rhodes College and Williams College.

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a board member of the Albert Shanker Institute. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.


  • Wordsworth and Schelling (1960)
  • Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake (1964)
  • Validity in Interpretation (1967)
  • The Aims of Interpretation (1976)
  • The Philosophy of Composition (1981)
  • (1987))
  • The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (1988)
  • (1996)
  • The Validity of Allegory in Convegno internazionale sul tema ermeneutica e critica: Roma 7-8 ottobre 1996. Roma: Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, 1998.
  • by E. D. Hirsch, Joseph F. Kett and James Trefil (2002)
  • (2006)
  • (2010)

Life and works

Education and early life

Hirsch was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a prosperous Jewish cotton merchant. He attended the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, then studied English at Cornell University (B.A., 1950), and Yale University (Ph.D., 1957) where he was an honorary member of Manuscript Society.

The Romantics

Hirsch began his academic career as a Yale English professor and a scholar of the romantic poets. His first book, Wordsworth and Schelling (1960), was a comparative study of the Romantic or "Enthusiastic" mindset, adapted from his Yale dissertation. His second book, Innocence and Experience (1964), was a monograph on William Blake. Hirsch argued, contra Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom, that Blake's outlook changed markedly from the time when he wrote the Songs of Innocence to the time when he wrote the Songs of Experience, and that the Songs of Experience represent a reply to the earlier work and a satire of his earlier views. The book was awarded the Explicator Prize but its thesis provoked criticism from Blake scholars who had followed Frye's lead in developing systematic interpretations of a more-or-less static Blake.


The next phase of Hirsch's career centered on questions of literary interpretation and hermeneutics. His books Validity in Interpretation (1967) and The Aims of Interpretation (1976) argue that the author's intention must be the ultimate determiner of meaning. At Yale, Hirsch had studied with and taught alongside eminent Yale-based exponents of the "New Criticism," including Cleanth Brooks and W. K. Wimsatt. His hermeneutic works represent a reaction against New Critical concepts that were omnipresent at the time, especially the idea that texts should be viewed as autonomous objects, without reference to authorial intent.

Hirsch also took issue with Gadamer's Heideggerian hermeneutics, Barthes' concept of "the death of the author," and Derrida's deconstruction. In his hermeneutic work, Hirsch drew extensively on German philosophy, especially the ideas of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, and Husserl. He popularized the distinction between "meaning" (as intended by the author) and "significance" (as perceived by a reader or critic) and argued for the possibility of objective knowledge in the humanities and social sciences. Hirsch's hermeneutic books are controversial, and his defense of authorial intention remains a minority position in Academia, though a widely cited one. "Validity in Interpretation" has remained continuously in print for more than 40 years and has been translated into German, Italian, Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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