Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in the Bluegrass, 1880-1917

By Kolan Thomas Morelock | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE
PANNING FOR GOLD

Lexington is a living community bound together by memories, some
of them bitter, but all remindful of a great history…. It is a proud,
aristocratic city of Southern ancestry, life, and charm.

—Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration,
Lexington and the Bluegrass Country, 1938

This is an account of turn-of-the-century southern intellectual life flourishing in a local and regional social environment of considerable turmoil, violence, and change. More specifically, it is the story of an evolving intersection of community and collegiate life in a small city in the upper South, a story of extracurricular activities that played a vital role not only in the intellectual lives of the undergraduates but also in the middle- and upper-class white community as a whole. Why tell this story at all? Why try to unearth and examine this interplay of town and gown cultural aspirations in Lexington, Kentucky from the period following Reconstruction to the nation’s entry into the First World War? The answer lies in the importance of region, locale, and campus-community interaction to the study of American intellectual history. To begin with, academia has sometimes construed southern intellectual life as an oxymoron—a misguided view that, until recently has helped ensure that southern intellectual history would be neglected. Along with the need to rectify this neglect by further exploration of the historical life of the mind in the South, there is the need to pay more attention to specific locales and thus inform a larger context. Or, as one historian put it, “local history is a prism through which to view the history of the United States.” In addition, American higher education and American society as a whole achieved modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries together, interacting with and affecting each other in the process. Historian Thomas Bender has argued that, historically, American intellectual life flourished within a “mix of urban cultural institutions. Only later would one of these institutions, the college converted into the university

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