Cover of The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties by Joseph F. Kett
The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties
From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750-1990
Joseph F. Kett


604 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804722971
Ebook ISBN: 9780804765282



This book traces the history of adult education in America from its roots in the popular tradition of self-improvement, to present day education outside a college or university setting. The author persuasively links developments in the realm of popular self-improvement to cultural and social forces, and explores the reasons why ordinary citizens turned to the cultivation of knowledge. He aims to unravel the knotted connections between education and society, by focusing on the voluntary pursuit of knowledge on the part of those who were both older and more likely to be gainfully employed than the school-age popoulation. By emphasising the importance of audiences, he sheds new light on the reasons for the shift from ideal of culture (as defined by Matthew Arnold) to such typical twentieth-century motifs as vocational education and public service.

About the author

"Opening new territory in social-cultural history, this important book uncovers a wealth of fresh and little-known material on non-formal education, a subject that no one before Kett quite realized is a subject. In the process, he also tells us an enormous amount about formal education, social aspiration, and cultural values over a span of more than two centuries. The book will be useful to students of American education and to historical and literary scholars of American culture. Especially valued will be Kett's attention to the special role of women, to class differences, and to the comparative history of popular education in the United States and Great Britain."

—Dorothy Ross, The Johns Hopkins University

"As with Kett's other works, it is an excellent thematic study that blends intellectual and social history. It is based on prodigious research and is a pleasure to read, for it combines a broad sweep and bold statement with delightful detail. It should appeal to both scholars and general readers."

—Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Smith College

"Joseph F. Kett has produced another distinguished volume. . . . A striking feature of Kett's book is its careful inclusion of succinct accounts of . . . the traditional stuff of educational history. The book adroitly interweaves this conventional history with the learning experiences of Americans who, because of economic circumstances, age, gender-based exclusion, or geographical isolation, were 'out of school.'"

History of Education Quarterly