- New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time, and: The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1987 (review)
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 34, Number 2, June 1988
- pp. 184-185
- View Citation
- Additional Information
184CIVIL WAR HISTORY reader vaguely unsatisfied. One wishes that Professor O'Brien had taken the time to make her subjects as dynamic as the time in which they lived. Janet E. Kaufman Worcester, Mass. New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time. By Thomas Bender. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Pp. xix, 422. $25.00.) The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1987. By Robert V. Bruce. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Pp. x, 446. $30.00.) These two meaty books make no obvious pair, but they overlap at several points and contribute in their own ways to our understanding of American intellectual and cultural development. Bender is concerned with both the place of the mind in the nation's commercial capital and the relation of intellect to democracy. He sees three European centers as models for distinctive intellectual cultures and describes the changing intellectual life of New York City by showing how these three cultures developed and coexisted over time. Civic culture patterned on the example of Edinburgh provided the initial norm. Patricians attempted to shape a learned culture reflecting the values of the Scottish Enlightenment, but they were challenged by mechanics and others demanding a broader definition of intellect. The result was a division into elite and artisan cultures. Literary culture characterized the period from the 1820s to the 1930s. New York emerged as a metropolitan center, art and intellect separated from general culture, and writers divided over the issue of how to relate literature to democratic culture in these years. Since Emerson's influence figures prominently in Bender's account, it helps littleto name Paris as the inspiration for the literary-culture model. Academic culture developed under the influence of the German university ideal after 1890. Now Columbia was transformed into a metropolitan university, though selective admissions later distanced it from identifiable ethnic groups in the city, and professors became leading intellectuals. But professorial intellectuals divided into two groups. Those favoringvalue-free expertise (and power) withdrew from public discourse, while those who remained critical intellectuals championed civic values. Finally, Bender shows how events in the two worlds of art and intellect , one word-oriented, the other image-oriented, during the thirties and forties, prepared the way for New York to emerge as the international cultural capital after the Second World War. Bruce treats the history of science and its interaction with the larger society during three momentous decades. His book is based on extensive BOOK REVIEWS185 research in manuscripts, and his portraits of both the institutions and individuals of science are incisive as well as judicious. Three parts of the book cover the years to 1861. After describing the influence of Europe and the state of American science when Louis Agassiz arrived in 1846, Bruce discusses the dimensions of becoming and being a scientist in the United States. Although he considers technology in relation to science, Bruce sees little connection between the two, despite public opinion to the contrary. He shows how the Smithsonian Institution under Joseph Henry along with various state and federal agencies , especially Alexander Dallas Bache's Coast Survey, the army, and the navy, provided institutional and financial support for science. Bruce credits the Lazzaroni, an elite group of scientists, with an effort to gain wide financial support for science with no accompanying strings, and he evaluates the role of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1848). Part four demonstrates that civil war blighted American science, especially in the South, and hit technology hard. Nevertheless, foundations were laid for future scientific advance with the Morrill Land Grant Act (1862), the Department of Agriculture (1862), and the National Academy of Sciences (1863) . "All the key elements of the modern American scientific establishment had made at least an initial appearance by the end of the seventies" (p. 353). Both authors emphasize European influences on American life, and both depict an ongoing conflict between elite groups and the public in a democratic culture. Bender deals with science, and both authors emphasize higher education. Bender not only describes but often celebrates his subject a bit uncritically; Bruce maintains a dispassionate tone...