Lockean Legacies: John Locke in American Education, Thought, and Culture
Claire Arcenas

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Montana

Primary Discipline

John Locke, the seventeenth-century English philosopher, has played a central role in the history of American education, politics, thought, and culture. Although he never set foot in what would become the United States, Locke has captivated Americans in ways few other philosophers (American or not) ever have. Locke in America will be the first book to tell the extraordinary story of Locke’s transatlantic influence from the eighteenth century until today. It shows how and why each generation of Americans has remade Locke’s importance, drawing from him lessons and inspiration to meet the most pressing needs of their day. Locke in America is more than a reception history of a thinker and his works. The varied ways in which Americans have reconfigured Locke’s importance—from a model for educational excellence and virtuous living in the eighteenth century to an avatar of American exceptionalism in the twentieth—provide new insights into key transformations in American educational and intellectual life from the Age of Revolutions to the Cold War and beyond.
About Claire Arcenas
Claire Rydell Arcenas is an assistant professor of American history at the University of Montana. She holds a PhD from Stanford University (2016), where she was a Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. Principally a scholar of American intellectual history, she is interested in the intersection between the history of higher education and political thought. Her current book project traces the influence of John Locke (1632-1704) on American intellectual life over the last three hundred years. Her work on Locke in America shows how educational content (e.g. what texts are assigned in a college classroom and what questions a professor might ask about these texts) transcends the confines of educational spaces and institutions to shape the ways in which Americans conceptualize their cultural and political traditions. Her research has received support from a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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