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Fireside Chat: Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic (Mark Boonshoft)

Following the American Revolution, it was a cliché that the new republic’s future depended on widespread, informed citizenship. However, instead of immediately creating the common schools–accessible, elementary education–that seemed necessary to create such a citizenry, the Federalists in power founded one of the most ubiquitous but forgotten institutions of early American life: academies, privately run but state-chartered secondary schools that offered European-style education primarily for elites. By 1800, academies had become the most widely incorporated institutions besides churches and transportation projects in nearly every state.

In this book, Mark Boonshoft shows how many Americans saw the academy as a caricature of aristocratic European education and how their political reaction against the academy led to a first era of school reform in the United States, helping transform education from a tool of elite privilege into a key component of self-government. And yet the very anti-aristocratic critique that propelled democratic education was conspicuously silent on the persistence of racial and gender inequality in public schooling. By tracing the history of academies in the revolutionary era, Boonshoft offers a new understanding of political power and the origins of public education and segregation in the United States.

Mark Boonshoft received his Ph.D. in history from Ohio State University, and then spent two years at the New York Public Library, where he worked on the Early American Manuscripts Project. Since then, he has taught at a number of universities, including SUNY-New Paltz and Norwich University. He is the author of Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic, and, along with Nora Slonimsky and Ben Wright, is co-editor of American Revolutions in the Digital Age (under contract with Cornell University Press). Mark was a SHEAR fellow at the Library Company in 2014.

This chat originally aired at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, April 8, 2021.

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