Anti-Intellectualism in American History (Session 2)

Programs for Teachers
Newberry Teachers' Consortium
Friday, March 12, 2010

Throughout U.S. history, a persistent question has vexed commentators on American culture: do we have a vital, distinct intellectual life? Long before Richard Hofstadter warned about rampant anti-intellectualism in American society, Ralph Waldo Emerson cautioned about the potential irreconcilability of genius and democracy:  “The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”  Indeed, one of the defining features of American thought has been a nagging concern that American culture is indifferent, even hostile, to the life of the mind.  By drawing on key works of criticism from thinkers as diverse as Emerson, George Santayana, H.L. Mencken, and Emma Goldman, this seminar will examine how and why concerns about American anti-intellectualism have come to dominate American intellectual life, and will consider the role of this lament in the history of American cultural criticism.

Seminar led by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin at Madison

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