- The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910
This is the paperback edition of a book originally published in 2002, and its availability is to be greatly welcomed. Winterer writes well and concisely, and her book has a clear focus that fills some of the gap between studies of classical culture in early America and its reception in American popular culture in the twentieth century. Winterer's emphasis is on the practitioners of the classics, that is, teachers and academicians. She astutely analyzes the beginnings of the professionalization of the classics in academe, which laid the groundwork for issues and attitudes in more ways than one might suspect.
The period she surveys witnessed the shift from classics being a central component of public discourse to becoming the preserve of its professional guardians. A major theme of the book is the recurring conflict—I wish I could use the term "dynamics," but it would be the wrong characterization—between academic classicists who aim to reach a wider public and those who consider professional specialization and its [End Page 524] practice as their main goal. The process started with the centering of the school curriculum for the cultured elite on the teaching of Greek and Latin. Monopolies are always a bad thing: increasingly, as Winterer demonstrates (with commendable recourse to the prevailing school texts, among others), the forest of classical culture was lost for the trees of grammar and more grammar. It was easy enough, then, for reactionaries to deflate the puffed-up claims of the superiority of such an education, and the curriculum was freed up for other subjects.
At a later stage of this development, when the sciences began to rear their ugly head, one typical reaction by the classical guardians was to make their discipline "scientific" as well. This led to a relentless preoccupation with text criticism and editing. The net result again was a failure to convey, certainly to a larger audience, what these texts actually meant amid the continuing absorption with minutiae.
Not that other voices were silent. Winterer describes them well in her last chapter, "Scholarship versus Culture, 1870–1910," but presents especially vivid examples in the preceding chapters too. What emerges is that just as today classics has been a profession in which the individual practitioner can make a tremendous difference. The protean examples she presents are an implicit illustration of the elasticity of the classical tradition and its adaptability to various contexts. She details a major trend in the nineteenth century, when classicism was styled as "an antidote to modern materialism and civic degeneracy" and linked "to a broad program of self-formation that they called self-culture" (98). Classicists like Henry Frieze, who taught for thirty-five years at the University of Michigan (where Winterer received her Ph.D.), had a far-reaching impact because they were "quasi-ministerial" and their lectures were "secular sermons," which shows, at the very least, that a craving for "values," a topic of national conversation again today, is part of the American tradition and can be tapped into in various ways. Another telling development analyzed by Winterer is what she calls the feminization of classicism, especially in higher education, during the Gilded Age. The male bastion was opened up to women, and that paved the way for the stellar contributions of women classical scholars by the second third of the twentieth century.
In sum, this is an intelligent book about an important period in the development of the reception and practice of the classical tradition in America. Winterer at times should have been more precise about the way she uses the terms "culture" and even "classicism," but it is clear and by no means detrimental that these concepts, even in this book, mean different things to different people at different times.