Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tidbits on higher ed in colonial America

I've mostly just skimmed the primary documents in Hofstadter's book so far.  A few observations:

  • In a history of Harvard written in 1702, Cotton Mather extols the accomplishments of Harvard's first President.  One of the key things singled out is fundraising accomplishments..
  • By 1723, Harvard's faculty were at war with the Overseers of the Harvard Corporation (roughly the equivalent of a modern Board of Trustees or Board of Regents), and writing letters and essays on it.  Any observer of modern higher ed would recognize this situation.
  • In the 18th century, Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield was preaching throughout the colonies. In Boston he drew a huge crowd for a sermon that included criticisms of Harvard for falling short in the spiritual preparation of their students and for allowing students to read "bad books."  Whitefield would probably agree with modern efforts to put trigger warnings on syllabi for books with disturbing content.  Also, the faculty of Harvard fired back with just as many essays as modern faculty write in response to perceived threats to academic freedom.

On the other hand, early American university charters make it quite clear that the mission was a combination of inculcating religious virtue, preparing upper-class professionals, and in particular (but far from solely) preparing clergy.  That is very different from the purpose of the modern university.

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