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American Academic Cultures

A History of Higher Education

At a time when American higher education seems ever more to be reflecting on its purpose and potential, we are more inclined than ever to look to its history for context and inspiration. But that history only helps, Paul H. Mattingly argues, if it’s seen as something more than a linear progress through time. With American Academic Cultures, he offers a different type of history of American higher learning, showing how its current state is the product of different, varied generational cultures, each grounded in its own moment in time and driven by historically distinct values that generated specific problems and responses.
Mattingly sketches out seven broad generational cultures: evangelical, Jeffersonian, republican/nondenominational, industrially driven, progressively pragmatic, internationally minded, and the current corporate model. What we see through his close analysis of each of these cultures in their historical moments is that the politics of higher education, both inside and outside institutions, are ultimately driven by the dominant culture of the time. By looking at the history of higher education in this new way, Mattingly opens our eyes to our own moment, and the part its culture plays in generating its politics and promise.

464 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Education: Education--General Studies, Higher Education

History: American History, General History


“Mattingly hopes that his work will be read, above all, by current and future college and university leaders who too often do not appreciate their institutions’ rich histories. I fully agree. Indeed, contrary to Mattingly himself, I see American Academic Cultures as far more than 15 'self-contained analyses'. Even if it includes much material that is commonplace to scholars in the field, it is a major contribution to the history of US higher education that amply repays readers’ investment of time.”

Times Higher Education

"Brief summary does not do justice to the depth of the book. It is rich with information, some covering topics a reader would expect in an overview of the history of American higher education and some addressing subjects that are unexpected, such as Olmsted. . . . This is a book by a deeply knowledgeable historian of education and it will be best appreciated among similarly expert readers."

History of Education Quarterly

"Mattingly compellingly describes higher education’s history in ways encouraging thoughtful reflection through engaging storytelling. . . . Researchers in education, history, anthropology, sociology, and others interested in the history of higher education policy and practice will find Mattingly’s cultural interpretation of higher education’s purpose valuable and suggestive of further inquiry. . . . The readability of Mattingly’s book should make it useful for masters and doctoral level historically focused courses, particularly in education, as well as a supplement to advanced undergraduate courses in fields attending to higher education issues."

Anthropology & Education Quarterly

"American Academic Cultures is a multifaceted social history of higher education in the United States. . . . [Mattingly's] history extends beyond developments at individual institutions to examine the wider intellectual, political, and social milieu that shaped academic cultures at various times in U.S. history. . . . A comprehensive analysis of the academic cultures that shaped American higher education from the colonial period to the present."

The Journal of American History

"There is much that is useful in Mattingly’s approach. He is adept at teasing out the relationship between the generative conditions for these cultural worlds, and he places an appropriate emphasis on academic leaders, who are too often ignored in the organizational study of education."

The American Historical Review

"[T]he model of generational academic cultures as a way of understanding the history of American higher education seems quite helpful. It helps account for the very different ethos one finds in the collegiate settings of 1750, 1850, 1950, and today. As I noted, it also highlights the interplay of broader and academic cultural forces. . . . Furthermore, any meaningful conversation about the future(s) of higher education cannot exist apart from understanding where we are and how we got here, or a consideration of the cultural forces shaping the discussion. Mattingly’s well-researched and organized work seems to me required reading for any who care about such matters."

Bob on Books

"Culture is not a singular thing that can be studied in isolation; instead, culture must always be studied in context and with regard to the artifacts of the time. Paul H. Mattingly’s American Academic Cultures does precisely this. It examines the cultures of American higher education through an examination of the people and artifacts associated with the unfolding history of the academy. . . . Perhaps Mattingly’s unique contribution, however, is his interest to explore connections among specific historical people and developments in American higher education, their associated academic cultures, and the concomitant, larger American socio-cultural realities."

Teachers College Record

"American Academic Cultures is a fascinating and informative account of American higher education. It makes one wonder what the future character of academic culture will be with continual decline in government funding, increase in online technology adoption, and the persistent growth in administrative staff. By reviewing what has transpired in the past, American Academic Cultures provides us a glimpse forward of what may – and could – lie ahead."


"The book is aimed at historians of higher education but will be of interest to a wide range of scholars and practitioners. Scholars of American religious history will be interested in his comparison of eighteenth-century colleges, which were aimed at the ministerial formation and elite education, with nineteenth-century colleges, which were aimed at a more democratic moral education. For administrators, boards, and policy makers seeking to reform the practice of higher education today, the book provides useful historical paradigms to broaden thinking about the purpose of education."

Religious Studies Review

"American Academic Cultures provides a unique historical perspective from which to view the past, present, and future of higher learning in America from its beginnings in  eighteenth century colleges to the early twenty-first century.  Through the lens of varied generational cultures over time, Mattingly probes major developments, issues, assumptions and shifts in and outside of institutions of higher learning.  He synthesizes much of the literature in the field but eschews a linear approach.  In the process, he reconstructs varied generational cultures and provides insights into changes in various periods and over time. The book is dense with endnotes, which will be valuable to historians, educators, and other scholars in the field.  However, the methodology and interpretation will also be of interest to policy makers and the general public searching for an understanding of changes over time and insights into approaching current issues and debates about American higher education."

Marilyn Tobias, author of Old Dartmouth on Trial: the Transformation of the Academic Community in Nineteenth-Century America

"No other study exposes the intellectual infrastructure of America’s colleges and universities as well as American Academic Cultures. Only someone with Mattingly’s mastery of the field could so deftly weave the complex, dynamic contexts out of which American higher education has evolved.  In these engaging, incisive essays, Mattingly illumines the principal academic cultures whose dialectical interplay has not only shaped the universities and colleges in this country, but affected all the institutional generators of knowledge within higher education’s orbit in modern society.  Mattingly even bravely offers paths by which higher education in American can best fulfill its open-ended responsibilities to students and republic alike in this still young century.  This is intellectual history at its finest."

Robert Emmett Curran, Georgetown University

 “In a narrative beginning with colonial education and ending with the present day, Mattingly has examined the major challenges facing American schools. Anyone interested in the history of American higher education—whether an educator or not—will find this work appealing.”

David S. Brown, Elizabethtown College

“A consistent, authoritative, challenging, and fresh engagement with the major elements and stages of American higher education history, but one that never feels like a survey.  An ambitious, distinctive, interpretive effort to make sense of what has become in our day a nodal segment of American society, economy, and public policy.”

James M. Banner Jr., author of Being a Historian

Table of Contents


Chapter One
The Great Awakening and the Eighteenth-Century Colleges

Chapter Two
Enlightenment and Denominationalism in Jefferson’s Virginia

Chapter Three
Antebellum Colleges and the Inculcation of Moral Character

Chapter Four
Science and System in Nineteenth-Century Collegiate Culture

Chapter Five
Land-Grant Colleges and the Emergence of an Academic Space

Chapter Six
The Generic University

Chapter Seven
Educated Women and the Inflation of Domesticity

Chapter Eight
The Academic Cultures of Nineteenth-Century Collegians

Chapter Nine
Progressive Ideology in American Higher Education

Chapter Ten
Academic Expertise in the National Interest

Chapter Eleven
The Other Captains of Erudition: From Science to General Education

Chapter Twelve
From the Liberal Core to an International Discourse

Chapter Thirteen
Federal Policy and the Postwar University

Chapter Fourteen
Clark Kerr: The Unapologetic Pragmatist

Chapter Fifteen
Challenging Pragmatism


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