MANHOOD AT HARVARD by Kim Townsend

MANHOOD AT HARVARD

William James and Others
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Townsend (English/Amherst Coll.; Sherwood Anderson, 1987) scrutinizes the thought of Charles Eliot and William James to locate the 19th-century ideals of manhood peculiar to the Harvard Man, and to trace their influence on America after the Civil War. In an alumni essay published in 1902, Harvard history professor Albert Bushnell Hart looked back to find that ``teaching men manhood'' was ``not a matter of record on the College books'' but concluded that in subtle ways it nonetheless had been done. Townsend thoroughly searches the written record to determine how much the elusive ethos of ``manhood'' influenced Harvard president Charles William Eliot (18691909), William James, and their colleagues, as they brought the institution to the forefront of American higher education and arguably created the modern American university. Harvard's professorial Golden Age during Eliot's tenure included Josiah Royce, C.S. Peirce, Louis Agassiz, Henry Adams, and Charles Eliot Norton, all of whom Townsend objectively reviews for their characters and attitudes toward manhood. He singles out William James for special study because he was flexible enough to both uphold and criticize the assumptions of manhood. Broadly, Townsend argues that masculinity's postbellum ideal took on specific attributes of self-mastery and vigor (physical and intellectual). Townsend concentrates on how Harvard specifically tried to inculcate this new ``manhood,'' as Eliot changed the curriculum to an elective system, promoted physical fitness and (more grudgingly) intercollegiate sports, and moved higher education away from rote learning and closer to commerce and industry. A well-defined concept of manhood, he concludes, never achieved an ideal articulation at Harvard, as can be seen in the life of Teddy Roosevelt--who did more to vulgarize the ideal than embody it. Though the vanished tradition still is palpable in contemporary gender issues, Townsend weakens his punctilious thesis by restricting it to the Harvard corner of the groves of academe. (42 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03939-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996