Intellectual manhood: becoming men of the Republic at a southern university, 1795-1861 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Williams, Timothy J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Intellectual manhood explores antebellum southern students' personal and civic development at the University of North Carolina, the first state university to open its doors to students. Historians have characterized southern colleges as crucibles of sectional loyalty and culture, aimed at teaching students how to be southerners and gentlemen above all. This dissertation, however, demonstrates that southern education was more nuanced: it was cosmopolitan, southern, and American. Students described its goal as intellectual manhood, which they strove to achieve by learning to think, read, write, and speak their way to adulthood. Though collegiate vice and dissipation threatened to impede young men's development, formal and informal education at the University emphasized a culture of mental and moral improvement. In the process, students incorporated values conventionally associated with middle-class society--industry, temperance, and discipline--and adapted them (at times uncomfortably) to youth culture and the southern gentry's traditional honor-bound, rugged worldview. Young men entered college with ambitions to serve the republic as virtuous, confident, and competent citizens. The University's formal and informal structures reinforced those ambitions. A core liberal arts curriculum, including ancient languages, science, math, rhetoric, and ethics, emphasized that knowledge and virtue comprised men's honor and greatness. Student-organized literary societies existed at the crux of male education and friendship and reinforced these ideals by pushing students to work hard for academic distinction. Societies also provided informal instruction in oratory and debate, which qualified students for civil society and participatory democracy, and they maintained large, cosmopolitan libraries to enhance students' studies and provide opportunities for private reading and amusement. For many students, learning occurred in private contemplation of histories, biographies, and novels. Higher education also occurred in an informal curriculum of dancing and singing schools, balls, courtships, and rendezvous with local prostitutes. These private and social experiences influenced young men's social and emotional development, as they confronted conflict resulting from temptation, anxiety, heartache, and melancholy. In all of these collegiate spaces, students engaged in a living curriculum of higher learning and pursued intellectual manhood. The resulting elite male culture favored intellectualism, bourgeois values, and both national and regional belonging.
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  • In Copyright
  • Watson, Harry L.
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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