The Classics and the Broader Public in Philadelphia, 1783-1788: Avenues for Engagement
Dowrey, Alexandra E.
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In early Philadelphia, 1783-1788, the classics formed a pervasive presence on the city's cultural, political, and physical landscape. As the American nation commenced its republican experiment, references to the classics in Philadelphia especially emerged as a vehicle and vocabulary employed by statesmen for fashioning a people, political culture, and national identity. According to political theories of republicanism, statesmen in Philadelphia had a vested interest in cultivating the virtue of their citizens. As symbols and lessons in patriotism and virtue, classical antiquity was incorporated into civic iconography and national foundation narratives and projected to the broader public. This thesis examines the classical presence in Philadelphia, 1783-1788. It specifically analyses the public presentation and dissemination of the classics in three cultural avenues beyond the walls of the academy, newspapers, spectacles, and orations, in order to evaluate the barriers and opportunities for engagement with the classics by the broader Philadelphia public. I argue that although the gates to a traditional higher education were shut to many of the Philadelphia public, cultural avenues existed that allowed the classics to disseminate to the wider populace. The broader public was invited to engage with the classics when it served a political purpose and lessons in patriotism and virtue were being transmitted. However, this inclusion was often controlled, mediated, and implemented on the terms of the elite. Further, the classics still served as markers of status, and the two contradictory functions held by the classics placed the wider Philadelphia public on the threshold of inclusion and exclusion.
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