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The Cosmopolitan Lyceum

Lecture Culture and the Globe in Nineteenth-Century America

edited by Tom F. Wright

Publication Year: 2013

From the 1830s to the 1900s, a circuit of lecture halls known as the “lyceum movement” flourished across the United States. At its peak, up to a million people a week regularly attended talks in local venues, captivated by the words of visiting orators who spoke on an extensive range of topics. The movement was a major intellectual and cultural force of this nation-building period, forming the creative environment of writers and public figures such as Frederic Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anna Dickinson, and Mark Twain. The phenomenon of the lyceum has commonly been characterized as inward looking and nationalistic. Yet as this collection of essays reveals, nineteenth-century audiences were fascinated by information from around the globe, and lecturers frequently spoke to their fellow Americans of their connection to the world beyond the nation and helped them understand “exotic” ways of life. Never simple in its engagement with cosmopolitan ideas, the lyceum provided a powerful public encounter with international currents and crosscurrents, foreshadowing the problems and paradoxes that continue to resonate in our globalized world. This book offers a major reassessment of this important cultural phenomenon, bringing together diverse scholars from history, rhetoric, and literary studies. The twelve essays use a range of approaches, cover a wide chronological timespan, and discuss a variety of performers both famous and obscure. In addition to the volume editor, contributors include Robert Arbour, Thomas Augst, Susan Branson, Virginia Garnett, Peter Gibian, Sara Lambert, Angela Ray, Evan Roberts, Paul Stob, Mary Zboray, and Ronald Zboray.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Many of the experts working on this field, across a range of academic disciplines, were able to come together at a special two-day conference at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, in September 2011. This book has emerged from the lively exchange of ideas that took place at that event, which was kindly supported by the Antiquarian Society and the University of...

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Tom F. Wright

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pp. 1-20

During the nineteenth century, the word cosmopolitan evolved from a noun to an adjective. Attempting to establish where and when the shift occurred, the Oxford English Dictionary cites a Boston lecture hall and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1844 talk titled “The Young American.”1 In that speech the word appears at the head of a moment of prophetic...

Part I: Cultivating Cosmopolitanism

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1. How Cosmopolitan was the Lyceum, Anyway?

Angela G. Ray

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pp. 23-41

In 1980, historian Donald M. Scott wrote in the Journal of American History that the lyceum lecture system in the mid-nineteenth-century United States “not only expressed a national culture; it was one of the central institutions within and by which the public had its existence.”1 Drawing on the scholarship of Scott and others, as well as my own investigation of...

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2. Women Thinking: The International Popular Lecture and its Audience in Antebellum New England

Ronald J. Zboray, Mary Saracino Zboray

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pp. 42-66

On the evening of December 11, 1838, Bostonian Annie Lawrence walked over to the Masonic Temple in the bustling city center to hear the first in a course of lectures on the “domestic manners and habits of the Turks.”1 It was to be given by Christopher Hatchik Oscanyan, a New York University student who was a recent Armenian immigrant from the Ottoman...

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3. Bringing Music to the Lyceumites: The Bureaus and the Transformation of Lyceum Entertainment

Sara Lampert

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pp. 67-90

The sale of season tickets for the Worcester Lyceum Course was particularly lively the weekend of October 17, 1874. The first local residents began lining up outside the box office at Mechanics Hall at seven o’clock the evening before the sale began, and their numbers totaled twenty-five by midnight. The course for 1874–75 was slated to open with Camilla Urso’s...

Part II: Cosmopolitan Authorship

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4. Mr. Emerson’s Playful Lyceum: Polyvocal Promotion on the Lecture Circuit

Robert Arbour

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pp. 93-112

On a bitterly cold January evening in DeWitt, Iowa, in 1866, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a veteran lecturer on the lyceum circuit with some thirty-three years of experience under his belt, stood at the rostrum and began skipping wildly over the pages of his manuscript, glancing every so often at his watch. The reason was simple: he had double-booked himself. Emerson’s...

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5. With Press and Paddle: William H. H. Murray’s “Adirondack” Lectures and the Making of a Wilderness Guide

Virginia Garnett

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pp. 113-129

On May 10, 1870, standing before a thousand of Boston’s curiosity seekers, learned men, and armchair travelers, renowned pastor, gamesman, writer, and soon-to-be popular lecturer William Henry Harrison Murray offered himself as a guide to the Adirondacks, a wild mountainous region still foreign to many but only a day trip away. His lecture drew...

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6. William James’s “True American Theory”: The Varieties of Religious Experience and Transatlantic Intellectual Culture

Paul Stob

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pp. 130-148

William James should have been the first American to deliver Scotland’s prestigious Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology. He was, after all, the first American invited to deliver them. But a variety of factors—health problems, time constraints, anxiety about finding the right message for this intellectually imposing venue—prevented James from delivering...

Part III: Internationalism or Imperialism?

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7. “Barnum is undone in his own province”: Science, Race, and Entertainment in the Lectures of George Robins Gliddon

Susan Branson

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pp. 151-167

In the spring of 1850, the Hartford Daily Courant informed its readers that George Gliddon, former American vice consul to Egypt, renowned scholar, and collector of Egyptian antiquities, planned to unwrap an Egyptian mummy at Boston’s Tremont Temple. The notice ended with the following comment: “Barnum is undone in his own province, and unless he...

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8. The Lyceum as Contact Zone: Bayard Taylor’s Lectures on Foreign Travel

Peter Gibian

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pp. 168-202

One of the fundamental questions that divided Americans from the early postcolonial period through the antebellum era was a debate about the foundation and formation of cultural life in the young nation. This ongoing debate played out and heightened a schematic division between two sharply opposed conceptions of the process of nation...

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9. The Peripatetic Career of Wherahiko Rawei: Maori Culture on the Global Chautauqua Circuit, 1893–1927

Evan Roberts

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pp. 203-220

Historians of cultural pathways in the nineteenth-century “English-speaking world” have mostly examined the separate connections between Britain and its colonies and Britain and the United States. Within the British Empire strong cultural ties—seen by many historians as being exported from the metropole to the colony—went hand in hand with formal...

Conclusion: Cosmopolitan Medium

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10. Humanist Enterprise in the Marketplace of Culture

Thomas Augst

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pp. 223-240

In the early twenty-first century, we are witnessing the evolution of genres of discourse that, as with previous eras of “new” technologies of communication, reconfigure the relations between writing and speech in ways that seem to bend once finite boundaries of received forms of knowledge. Books with covers become e-books on screens; practices of writing...

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About the Contributors

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pp. 241-244

Robert Arbour is a doctoral candidate in the English department at Indiana University, where he studies nineteenth-century American literature. His dissertation is titled “A Sentimental War: American Poetry and the Civil War” and tracks changes in sentimental poetry as a nationalizing mode during and after the American Civil War. He has published essays...


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pp. 245-251

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762899
E-ISBN-10: 1613762895
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340580
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340583

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 5 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 879285857
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Cosmopolitan Lyceum

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Subject Headings

  • Popular culture -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Cosmopolitanism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Lectures and lecturing -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Lyceums -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Relations.
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