American Romanticism and the Popularization of Literary Education focuses on three Romantic educational genres and their institutional and media contexts: the conversation, literary journalism, and the public lecture. The genres discussed in this book illustrate the ways in which the Transcendentalists engaged nineteenthcentury media and educational institutions in order to fully realize their projects. The book also charts the development from the semi-public conversational platforms such as Alcott’s Temple School and Fuller’s conversations for women in the 1830s to the increasingly public periodical culture and lecture platforms of the 1840s and the early 1850s. This expansion caused a reconsideration of the meaning and function of Romanticism.
Clemens Spahr is lecturer of American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz.
Chapter One: Universal Education: American Romanticism and the Institutions of Education
Chapter Two: Intelligent Sympathies: Conversations and the Institutionalization of Romantic Education
Chapter Three: The Problem of Audience: Nineteenth-Century Periodical Culture and Romantic Popular Education
Chapter Four: Public Intellectuals: The Romantic Lecture, Professionalization, and Politics
About the Author
Clemens Spahr has given us a fresh portrait of the Transcendentalists as social reformers who were grounded in education, and developed an array of original forms of instruction and conversation as the tools of social change. His remarkable book will deeply increase our recognition and appreciation of the impact of Transcendentalism.
Literature, education, and social reform have been recognized as major elements of American Transcendentalism since the movement emerged in Boston in the 1830s. With this engaging, well-structured book, Clemens Spahr is the first to show how central and ineluctably linked these arenas were to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Henry Thoreau, and countless other idealists and visionaries. Their project, Spahr argues persuasively, was nothing less than to establish self-reliance as “a cultural practice available to everyone.” To this end, they sought to create “sympathetic relationships” not only through classroom teaching but also via such flexible genres as conversation, periodicals, and lectures. Spahr’s study is essential reading for students of Transcendentalism. Teachers and policy makers too could profit from his meditation on the promise and decline of the spirit of 19th-century American education reform: Modern corporatized education, he suggests, could benefit from a dose of the Romantics’ inextinguishably hopeful “vision of the self.”
In this valuable study, Clemens Spahr argues that transforming educational institutions and practices was central to the American Transcendentalists’ overall project of individual and social reform. Spahr draws on a wealth of research to examine the fraught nature of this undertaking for Orestes Brownson, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and Frederick Douglass. He presents these “immensely practical figures” as having significantly expanded the reach of public education over the antebellum decades. In and through multiple genres and forums, the Transcendentalist-Romantic educators evidence the tension of their progressive pedagogy as they come up against societal censure and institutional limits as well as their own concerns for audience—from Alcott’s Socratic pedagogy at his Temple School to his and Fuller’s Conversations; from Brownson’s political journalism that insisted on addressing class politics to Fuller’s literary essays, social critiques, and eventual revolutionary treatises from Europe in the New York Tribune; from Emerson, Thoreau, and Douglass’s popularization and politicization of the lyceum to their own self-fashioning as public intellectuals who, especially in Douglass’s case, insisted that the lecture podium be a forum for “political change.” Spahr shows that while these Romantics committed to expanding the reach of public education, they also experienced drawbacks resulting from their elite status. Yet they offer a model of “educational practices as interventions” and teach us how to deliver “a practical yet idealistic education.”