From the 1830s to the 1900s, a circuit of lecture halls known as the “lyceum movement” flourished across the United States. At its peak, up to a million people a week regularly attended talks in local venues, captivated by the words of visiting orators who spoke on an extensive range of topics. The movement was a major intellectual and cultural force of this nation-building period, forming the creative environment of writers and public figures such as Frederic Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anna Dickinson, and Mark Twain.
The phenomenon of the lyceum has commonly been characterized as inward looking and nationalistic. Yet as this collection of essays reveals, nineteenth-century audiences were fascinated by information from around the globe, and lecturers frequently spoke to their fellow Americans of their connection to the world beyond the nation and helped them understand “exotic” ways of life. Never simple in its engagement with cosmopolitan ideas, the lyceum provided a powerful public encounter with international currents and crosscurrents, foreshadowing the problems and paradoxes that continue to resonate in our globalized world.
This book offers a major reassessment of this important cultural phenomenon, bringing together diverse scholars from history, rhetoric, and literary studies. The twelve essays use a range of approaches, cover a wide chronological timespan, and discuss a variety of performers both famous and obscure. In addition to the volume editor, contributors include Robert Arbour, Thomas Augst, Susan Branson, Virginia Garnett, Peter Gibian, Sara Lampert, Angela Ray, Evan Roberts, Paul Stob, Mary Zboray, and Ronald Zboray.