- Education and the Creation of Capital in the Early American Republic
Beadie's new book is an important case study of schooling and the transition to capitalism before 1840 in the Genesee River region of upper New York State. The project is based upon a thorough and judicious analysis of the scattered surviving local and state documents, as well an impressive synthesis of the secondary literature on antebellum education, religion, society, politics, and economy. The book is divided into three parts—education and social-capital formation, schools as agencies of politicalization, and education and economic transformation.
Beadie focuses on rural Lima township in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, documenting its extraordinary educational investments. She first examines the evolving roles of religious groups and town officials in the development of its common schools (including the impact of such events as the Second Great Awakening and the rise of political parties in New York). She then traces the complex local and regional support for the establishment of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary—a Methodist-affiliated academy—one of the largest educational institutions in New York during the three decades before the Civil War.
Beadie argues that schools and other social institutions played a major role in transforming the antebellum political economy. They helped to stimulate the creation, accumulation, and movement of social, financial, and political capital, which contributed to the development of the modern liberal state. Looking at the impact of education, she analyzes social and cultural capital from the perspective of individual students as well as the translocal voluntary associations (such as the Methodists) that fostered those schools. State monies for education also contributed to the well-being of the New York banking system, since they were often directly dependent upon income earned from bank investments.
Beadie might want to explore additional, complementary research questions later, such as the economic productivity of antebellum education. Horace Mann, secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, developed and popularized the concept of the economic productivity of education during the early 1840s; New York State reprinted and widely distributed his report on the subject. Was the idea of the economic productivity [End Page 473] of education accepted and publicized in the Genesee River region? How would this concept fit within the social-capital framework in Beadie's work? Economists now argue that the economic rates of return are higher for elementary education than for more advanced schooling. Was this true in antebellum Lima? Economic historians also are debating the nature and significance of the economic productivity of nineteenth-century education. What might the case study of Lima add to this discussion?
Overall, Beadie has produced an exemplary study that will be of great interest not only to historians of education but also to other scholars analyzing the nature of economic, social, religious, and political exchanges in local and regional settings.