What Do Early Americanists Offer the Liberal Arts?—Part II

Yale College, 1807Last week, in the first part of this post, I argued that we tend to justify the liberal arts in two potentially contradictory ways. First, we assert that the liberal arts offer tools for citizenship. Second, we claim they point our way to human values that transcend any community. I argued that both of these justifications or approaches are necessary. I also suggested that early Americanists have not found it easy to explain what we contribute to the second approach.

Today, therefore, I am taking up the question I posed last week. Does early American scholarship offer anything distinctive to the liberal arts as a way of understanding humanity at large? Continue reading

What Do Early Americanists Offer the Liberal Arts?

Course of Study, Amherst College, 1824

Perhaps because the traditional academic year has ended, and probably in part because of the tides and undertows of the current election, we seem to be awash just now in excellent essays about the purposes and state of the humanities.

To do my part to put a stop to that, I am here to ask what the liberal arts have to do with early American studies.

I suspect we tend to take the relationship too much for granted.

Continue reading

History & Story

1134henryadamsOnce or twice upon a chapter, as you work to tell history as story, take comfort in knowing that even American sage Henry Adams sometimes had a not-great writing day. By 1878, the 40-year-old Harvard professor of medieval history was a polished scholar. Hailing from a family that wrote for the archive, he navigated easily the uncatalogued byways of an early Library of Congress. He swept up obscure state records and gathered local maps for his 9-volume History of the United States. As editor of the North American Review, Henry instructed freelancers to write “in bald style.” He sliced his private letters down to acid cultural commentary that, to the modern reader, feels meta-enough to border on code. Continue reading

State Lotteries in the Early Republic: Or What I Learned from John Oliver

John_Oliver_Lottery.png.CROP.promo-mediumlargeI originally planned to title this post: “Do I have to thank John Oliver in my dissertation acknowledgments?” In the first season finale of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, Oliver did a segment on state lotteries (NSFW, crude language), many of which fund education. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I devote a decent chunk of space discussing lotteries to fund schools in the critical period and early republic. If anything makes my research cool to non-academics, it’s that I can relate some of it to this John Oliver bit. Continue reading

The JuntoCast, Episode 13: Education in Early America

The JuntoCastWe’re happy to bring you the thirteenth episode of “The JuntoCast.” Continue reading