What was the intellectual culture of colonial America, as expressed in different forms?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would suggest that the Enlightenment was highly significant in developing the intellectual culture in Colonial America.  The idea of being able to appropriate the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity and one's own sense of rationality.  This sense of rationalism permeated the Colonial culture.  Figures like Benjamin Franklin became vaulted in the Colonial Culture.  Franklin was a practical figure who was able to demonstrate the pragmatic uses of education and knowledge.  At the same time, Franklin was able to demonstrate how education and being learned could have practical applications, helping to emphasize a sense of equality and pragmatism that unified the colonists.  At the same time, thinkers like Jefferson, instrumental in writing the documents that would galvanize the American colonial community into demanding freedom from the British, began to take hold.  Jefferson was a staunch believer in the Enlightenment and spreading these ideas throughout the colonies was of vital importance to both he and his political message.  In the end, this becomes where I think that the Enlightenment becomes the dominant force in forming the intellectual culture in Colonial America.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Much of the intellectual culture of colonial America was inspired by religion. The Puritans, for example, were in general more literate than other colonists because their religion stressed the importance of reading the Bible. The Puritans founded grammar schools and Harvard, the first college in colonial America, to train clergymen. 

New forms of intellectual culture came out of the First Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s. This religious revival movement focused on revivifying and intensifying people's religious experiences and making religion more enthusiastic and personal. As a result of the revival, many new colleges were founded to spread new religious ideas, including Princeton, Brown, and Columbia. The First Great Awakening was in part a reaction against the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement that started in Europe and influenced the American colonies. For example, Ben Franklin was influenced by the Enlightenment's emphasis on science and reason and was himself a scientist. Thomas Jefferson was also inspired by the Enlightenment and was an architect, inventor, and naturalist. Both the Enlightenment and the First Great Awakening affected the intellectual culture of the colonies. 

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