“The soul takes nothing with her to the next world but her education and her culture”*…
What does it mean to be “cultured”? Are you? The questionnaire above is from Ashley Montagu’s 1958 book, The Cultured Man…
Montagu—a well-respected anthropologist and former student of Franz Boas, who was influential in his profession’s midcentury rejection of the idea of innate racial hierarchy—wrote many popular books, of which The Cultured Man is one.
The book contains quizzes for 50 categories of knowledge in the arts and sciences, with 30 questions each; 25 of the questions test knowledge and five test what Montagu called “attitudes.” The test-taker could refer to the answers at the back of the book and tap the list of references Montagu offered as correctives to those who found themselves deficient in a particular area.
Distinguishing his project from that of the quiz shows that were popular staples of radio and TV in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Montagu wrote that a person considered “cultured” would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings, which would necessarily come about after contact with culture. “The principal mark of the cultured man is not so much knowledge as his attitude of mind in relating his knowledge to the world of experience,” Montagu wrote. A “cultured man” would be curious, unprejudiced, rational, and ethical.
“The function of these questions is not a static one,” Montagu wrote, encouraging readers to see the experience of being tested as an educational opportunity. “Their function is both dynamic and constructive: to tell you more or less exactly where you stand as a cultured person, and precisely in which directions you need to move from that position. No one grows who stands still.”
More, from the redoubtable Rebecca Onion, at “How Cultured Are You, by 1950s Standards?” It’s interesting to note, as Ms. Onion does, that while Montagu was a powerful mid-century voice for antiracism and multiculturalism, his idea of “culture” is essentially Western, and almost totally lacking in representation of non-male, non-white voices…
* Plato, The Republic
As we hit the books, we might spare a thought for a cultural observer extraordinaire: Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal; he died on this date in 1745.