The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII Professionalization and Popularization of Learning

When the historian of a later day comes to search out the intellectual antecedents of his modern society, he will devote an interesting chapter to the rise and progress of ideas as illustrated in the institution of the public lecture. He will record that at one time Emerson, Alcott, Phillips, Beecher, Garrison, and a great many other awakeners of American intelligence, were lecturers; that philosophers and scientists were persuaded out of their studies and laboratories to take a stand on the platform; in short, that Plato's Academe and Archimedes' workshop were turned into the lecture room.

-- New York Tribune, December 18, 1869

There is a new spirit of research abroad--a spirit which emulates the laboratory work of the naturalist.

-- JUSTIN WINSOR, 1886

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth intellectual life became ever more specialized and professionalized. This was apparent in the rapid shift from the older apprenticeship system of training doctors and lawyers to reliance on the professional school, in the new type of foundation for the promotion of learning, in the graduate faculties with well-equipped laboratories and libraries, fellowships, and research seminars, and in the swiftly growing number of professional organizations.

A number of factors were responsible for these changes. Some of them have already been taken into account: for example, the presence of scholarly immigrants with highly specialized intellectual skills. The growing custom of organizing interests and activities on a national scale also partly explains the appearance of many new national organizations of experts, organizations which could function tellingly by

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