A bear in its natural habitat

Following the American Revolution, it was a cliché that the new republic’s future depended on widespread, informed citizenship. However, instead of immediately creating the common schools–accessible, elementary education–that seemed necessary to create such a citizenry, the Federalists in power founded one of the most ubiquitous but forgotten institutions of early American life: academies, privately run but state-chartered secondary schools that offered European-style education primarily for elites. By 1800, academies had become the most widely incorporated institutions besides churches and transportation projects in nearly every state.

In Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic, I show how many Americans saw the academy as a caricature of aristocratic European education and how their political reaction against the academy led to a first era of school reform in the United States, helping transform education from a tool of elite privilege into a key component of self-government. And yet the very anti-aristocratic critique that propelled democratic education was conspicuously silent on the persistence of racial and gender inequality in public schooling. By tracing the history of academies in the revolutionary era, I offers a new understanding of political power and the origins of public education and segregation in the United States.

Praise for Aristocratic Education

Aristocratic Education is a deeply researched, well-written and unfailingly interesting contribution to the historiography of education and education reform in Colonial and Revolutionary America and the antebellum United States.” Evan Rothera, History of Education

“Mark Boonshoft is outstanding in working with a huge range of sources and his argument is original, important, and convincing. Without exaggeration, this is a ‘breakthrough book’ of the first order.” Jason Opal, author of Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation

“…efforts to reshape education during the long revolutionary era that created the United States were strangely half-hearted and markedly unrevolutionary. Mark Boonshoft’s incisive and insightful first book explains why. More than just a history of education, it is an account of the political conflicts and compromises that shaped the early republic.” Tom Cutterham, author of Gentlemen Revolutionaries: Power and Justice in the New American Republic

“This work is innovative and exciting because it transforms our understanding of the academies that blossomed after the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft does an exceptional job revealing education’s role in the social and political development of the new United States.” Johann Neem, author of Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America

“Early Americanists do not usually pay much attention to the history of education, especially before 1800. This book will answer skeptics who see secondary education as a niche topic divorced from the serious business of life..” Darcy Fryer, Journal of American History

“[academies] helped influence the development of the American political system as well as serving as an important component of the American educational structure throughout the nineteenth century. By recounting the development and reform of these institutions, Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic is an important contribution to our understanding of American education.” Sarah L. Hyde, American Historical Review

“Boonshoft’s work is exceptional in most every regard, but his use of sources is especially noteworthy. Forced to reconstruct the main lines of argument from fragmentary and peripheral accounts … [Boonshoft] adeptly weaves these sources into a composite whole while negotiating the complex interplay of political events and cultural forces. The effect is thoroughly compelling. Historians of education, and of American history more generally, would do well to emulate this approach.” James P. Cousins, Journal of Southern History

“What, then, can a focus on upper-class, old-regime iterations of American education reveal? Quite a bit, Mark Boonshoft demonstrates in Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic, a sophisticated, well-researched, and carefully written monograph.” Matthew Rainbow Hale, William and Mary Quarterly

“Boonshoft crafts a compelling, overarching framework for understanding the political economy of education in the early republic. Furthermore, his incisive narrative provides a useable past for dealing with issues of privatization, privilege, and inequity which continue to plague America’s public schools.” John Frederick Bell, American Nineteenth Century History

Other Research

In addition, I have published articles and essays on slavery and the United States Constitution, the role of religion in the American Revolution, the importance of heterosocial networks to social and political power in the early republic, and the connections between education, race, and the transformation of suffrage between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Many of these articles are behind paywalls. Feel free to contact me for pdf copies.