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"Shakespeare in the College Curriculum, 1880-1930"

Elizabeth Renker

Department of English

The Ohio State University


The post-1870 period was a tremendous time of upheaval in American education. The opening of The Johns Hopkins University in 1876 inaugurated the phenomenon of the American research university. The simultaneous expansion of the relatively new institution called the “high school” further stratified the levels of American schooling and raised new issues about the relation between the schools and the colleges. Simultaneously, Harvard initiated the elective system in 1869. All these changes fostered a new subject tentatively called “English,” a subject that emerged at first uneasily and then with increasing strength and institutional stability by the 1890s. This new institutional location for Shakespeare altered his curricular meaning, moving from (without completely expunging) the elocutionary Shakespeare of an earlier era to other Shakespeares that responded to a new institutional climate of an emergent higher curriculum.


I will explore “Shakespeare” as a curricular phenomenon at the college level in conjunction with these other major historical transitions, focusing on specific curricular programs at an array of institutions of higher education. Choosing institutions that operated on distinct educational models, including The Johns Hopkins University, Mount Holyoke College, Wilberforce University, The Ohio State University, Transylvania University, and The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, I will survey the specific historical moment and institutional context in which “Shakespeare” emerged and took shape in the curriculum in question. My method will attend to both similarities across the landscape of higher education—for example, the extent to which a relatively stable canon of plays characterized course offerings--and to differences as they emerge as specific institutional sites.   


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