Causarum Cognitio: the Architecture, Collections, and Social Agency of Three American Athenaea: Redwood, Boston, and Caltech


December 2021


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Is the athenaeum an adaptable concept in the twenty-first century university environment? What evidence exists to conclude that it contributes to a discursive community? This dissertation explores the legacy of the concept of the athenaeum in America and examines the organically formed social circles who share an interest in continuing discourse, often within multiple disciplines, and who contribute to their communities by modeling habits and behaviors reflecting their desire for improvement of themselves and their communities. From before and since our nation’s founding, the societies of the American Athenaeum have served as community-organized intellectual and artistic hubs, providing access to information, pursuing thought-provoking discourse, and applying their aggregate knowledge resources as agency for social change while presenting the most inspirational architecture, lectures, artistic performances, and collections to their communities. I focus on the eighteenth century Redwood Library and Athenaeum of Newport, Rhode Island, the nineteenth century Boston Athenaeum, and the twentieth century Caltech Athenaeum. The newest of these, Caltech Athenaeum, has been in service over one hundred years, and the oldest, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, has been in service to its community continuously over 300 years.



Education, Philosophy of, Education, Adult and Continuing, Urban and Regional Planning