“From the New World to the Old, and Back Again”: Whig University Leaders and Trans-Atlantic Nationalism in the Era of 1848
Abstract

In the mid-1800s, university educators Henry Tappan (Michigan) and Francis Wayland (Brown) argued that higher education could serve as an internal improvement that would help build America’s national culture. Such a nationalistic view of university education dated back to the founding generation, yet the vision of thinkers like Tappan and Wayland was profoundly influenced by mid-century Whig political ideology, as well as their own transatlantic voyages. These intellectuals saw national growth as developing in time rather than in space, and thought that universities could help tie the nation together in an era of western expansion and political fragmentation. On the one hand, Tappan and Wayland admired European universities for their concentration of library resources and intellect, but on the other hand, they were less enamored with the politics these cultural institutions supported. Such thinkers wanted to create universities that would allow the United States to compete with Europe, while at the same time protecting the New World from the extremes of monarchy and revolution—the tendency to continually begin the world all over again—that characterized the 1848-era “Old World.” This article shows that historians of mid-century higher education have focused too narrowly on mid-century German-style reforms at the expense of the larger contexts of transatlantic nationalism and Whig ideology. While Tappan’s and Wayland’s intended reforms—especially Brown’s failed “New System”—did not succeed as well as they had planned, they did represent Whig thought regarding education in an era when social turmoil rocked peoples on both sides of the Atlantic.


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