Reflections on the American Lyceum: The Legacy of Josiah Holbrook and the Transcendental Sessions
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The American Lyceum Movement became a pivotal foundation of U.S. adult education during the nineteenth-century. Holbrook recognized adult learners’ educational demands diversified during the rise of industrialism. Thus, he ingeniously fashioned an adult learning complex outside restrictions commonly found in denominational higher education institutions. He did so in a fashion appealing to higher education standards of the time in both presentation and practicality. What began as an effort to create a network of community associations, designed for the promotion of applied sciences and mechanical arts, soon evolved into a massive national undertaking that encapsulated the emergent transcendental and reformist assertiveness of a young nation. The sheer expansiveness of the Lyceum Movement also set an influential groundwork that predisposed Justin Morrill to write the decisive legislation of the American Agricultural College Acts. Over the course of many years, Morrill was actively engaged in Lyceum activity. His direct interaction with the Lyceum helped him form rationalizations about the expanding demands of adult learners during the Industrial Revolution and the potential for westward expansion. This rationale eventually contributed to the formation of land-grant colleges. Morrill’s progressive institutions paralleled Holbrook’s undertaking and became part of the formal structure of U.S. higher education. As a result, access to higher education was expanded on an unprecedented scale. Examining this history sheds light on how advances in science and technology change the needs and demographics of adult learners fundamentally, historically, and in the modern day.