Clemens Spahr's American Romanticism and the Popularization of Literary Education takes its place within what, as evidenced by his extensive bibliography and copious textual citations, is a burgeoning effort to situate Transcendentalism within its immediate social and institutional contexts. In this case, Spahr focuses on the debate over the nature and desirability of universal education and its relationship to established hierarchies of class, privilege, and power. For Spahr, “Romantic” educators (referring mainly here to the Transcendentalists, with the addition of Frederick Douglass) began with an idea of education premised on the potential of all human beings for self-culture. They soon found themselves running afoul of what Spahr calls “exclusionary mechanisms” in the culture. Still more troublingly, they were led to recognize their own status and that of their students or audiences as members of a middle-class literary culture at a distance from the populace they sought to educate and transform....

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