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GILBERT BRUCE KELLY, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study investigates the ideas of Norman Foerster and his participation in the American movement in thought and literary criticism known as New Humanism. The New Humanist movement flourished from the 1890s through the 1930s and proposed major reform of American literature, criticism, education, scholarship, and society. At its peak it was at the center of American intellectual, academic, and literary attention. Generally considered conservative, it drew primarily on classical antiquity for its central inspiration. Norman Foerster was an adherent of its ideas through an academic career of four decades. Norman Foerster was a foremost spokesman for that movement and a notable thinker in his own right. Foerster's proposals were generally prospective, specifically addressing the American climate, whereas other New Humanists tended to be retrospective. Foerster's presentation of New Humanism clothed the ideas in forms in which they were more likely to succeed. Specifically treated are his ideas on humanism and naturism, education and society, scholarship, literature, and criticism. They are treated in their own right and as New Humanist doctrine. His ideas on humanism, naturism, and society are found to be theoretically flawed in crucial respects but not unreasonable as a working philosophy; his ideas on education and scholarship are considered eminently sound even today; and his proposals for literature and criticism are found to be deeply flawed in theory and practice, with much to commend them. Those virtues and theoretical flaws are considered to have had little bearing on the practical failure of Foerster's proposals or of New Humanism. He is commended for his articulation of a modern humanism, his early and long-standing championing of American literature and democracy, his rejection of European hegemony, and his own contribution to American education, scholarship, and criticism.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

KELLY, GILBERT BRUCE, "NORMAN FOERSTER AND AMERICAN NEW HUMANIST CRITICISM" (1982). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI8228150.