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Thinking America: New England Intellectuals and the Varieties of American Identity

New England Intellectuals and the Varieties of American Identity

Andrew Taylor

Publication Year: 2010

In this thoughtful and wide-ranging cultural critique, Taylor explores the condition and role of the intellectual in nineteenth-century New England by examining five writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, William James, and George Santayana. Using key texts from each, he analyzes the status and identity of intellectual figures, and explores the relationship between intellectual work and theories of national identity. The questions the book raises--about the alliance between thought and action, about the best locations for intellectual work, and about the challenges posed to thinking by an increasingly fragmented and diverse public--remain pertinent today. Chronologically and geographically focused, Thinking America has wide resonance for the ongoing debates about the genealogy--and future viability--of the public intellectual.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The writing of this book has been helped by a number of people who have read portions of it, talked to me about it, or encouraged me to think about things other than it. The English Literature department at Edinburgh University represents collectively all that is good about our subject, and I continue to be grateful for its collegiality and excellent humor. I want to thank in particular Lee...

Note on Brief Titles

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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Thinking in the Emersonian Grain

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pp. 1-18

In a July 1861 commencement address at Tufts College in Massachusetts, Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted a claim for the authority of the intellect in the face of political discord and economic corruption. A mere three months after the outbreak of the Civil War, Emerson used his speech to insist upon the centrality of the life of the mind, advising his graduating student audience to heed its...

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1. Affiliation and Alienation

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pp. 19-54

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s taxonomy of the American Scholar, in his speech of that name delivered at Harvard University in August 1837, performs many of the tensions and competing impulses that continue to characterize the nature of intellectual work. In the passage cited above, Emerson addresses the assumption that the life of the mind depends upon seclusion, that an intellectual is...

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2. Thought and Action

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pp. 55-87

On September 10, 1856, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a meeting to raise funds to provide relief for antislavery settlers in “Bleeding Kansas,” as it came to be known. With the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854, and its effective authorization of the expansion of slavery under the principle of popular sovereignty into territories north of...

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3. Conversation and Cosmopolitanism

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pp. 88-125

If Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were ambivalent as to how best to intervene in the intellectual life of the nation—at times emboldened by their sense of moral independence, and at other moments doubtful of their ability to furnish an effective language of change—Margaret Fuller more convincingly embraced the possibilities for intervention offered by the emergence...

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4. Variety and Limits

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pp. 126-158

In his important book on the development of a black intellectual tradition at the end of the nineteenth century, Shamoon Zamir argues that William James, along with his intellectual precursor Ralph Waldo Emerson, “conceive of consciousness as passive perception and of action as unreflective activity,” an epistemological perspective that belongs to a faculty of mind which “can only...

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5. Aesthetics and Institutions

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pp. 157-184

Writing from London in 1915 to his one-time Harvard student Horace Kallen, and with the First World War in brutal progress, George Santayana articulated an exile’s suspicion of nationality. Kallen had delivered an address, “Nationality and the Jewish State in the Great War,” the previous year, and Santayana’s letter was a response to its appearance in The Menorah Journal...

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Coda: The Scene of Instruction

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pp. 185-192

In his influential analysis of the development of an American republic of letters, The Golden Day (1926), Lewis Mumford constructs a revisionist literary history in which New England’s writers expressed the desire “to prefigure in the imagination a culture which should grow out of and refine the experiences the transplanted European encountered on the new soil.”1 Central to this national...


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pp. 193-220


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pp. 221-226

E-ISBN-13: 9781584659150
E-ISBN-10: 1584659157
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584658627

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 752610341
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Thinking America: New England Intellectuals and the Varieties of American Identity

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- New England -- History and criticism.
  • Authors, American -- 19th century -- Political and social views.
  • New England -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
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