Ralph Dumain

For now, we will confine ourselves to literature available in the English language. Perhaps future collaborators will come forth and volunteer to research the literatures of other languages. This, like other culturally sensitive topics, is likely to vary significantly in emphasis and treatment from one society to another.

Now why would one want to research this topic, and from what point of view? Is one interested in just the techniques, mechanics, and opportunities for self-education, the history, the sociology of such efforts? While attending to the whole range of meanings, our emphasis here is on autodidaxy/autodidacticism as a philosophical and sociological concept, to locate the autodidact in the universe of knowledge.

Terminology: one is not likely to find all material of interest under one term. Also, this is not a concept which seems to be much in vogue. There is a substantial body of literature on self-education or self-directed learning. However, the question of self-education as a larger question of the nature of intellectual life, the formation of world-view, or of the possibilities for original thinking, both historically and in the present, (which is the prime mover of this project,) is a much harder topic to pin down, as it is not a consistent focus of scholarly research or public consciousness. We use "autodidact" as a shorthand concept covering everything from the mechanics of self-education to the more cultural-philosophical-psychological notion of bildung (self-cultivation).

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (Oxford University Press, 1970, vol. 1, p.574) simply defines "autodidact" as "one who is self-taught." There is a citation to More, 1534; another to Blackwood Magazine, 1883.

The question of search terms is compounded by the unreliability of subject cataloging using the Library of Congress Subject Headings. However, there is a subject heading for this topic: "self-culture". The Library of Congress classification system assigns the call numbers LC25-LC33 to this subject.

What exactly is self-culture? The OED (vol. IX, p. 417) defines it as "The cultivation or development by one's own efforts of one's mind, faculties, manners, etc." Emerson in 1847 uses the term in reference to Goethe. Lowell uses it in 1872 referring to Dante.

Not a bad definition, though I've never seen nor heard this term used in my lifetime until I looked it up as a subject heading. Its use is not restricted to the nineteeth century, as evidenced by its appearance in Powys' The Secret of Self Development, a Little Blue Book pamphlet first published in 1926.

We shall return to the question of terminology as we examine various aspects of education and intellectual life as we review the literature: books, library databases, encyclopedia articles, and bibliographic databases of dissertations, journals, and other specialized literature.

12 Feb 2000

Researching the Autodidact as a Concept (2) [coming soon]

Interviews on The Autodidact Project (Audio Files)

BBC Wiltshire Interview on The Autodidact Project

The Autodidact Project: Summary of History & Scope

Introduction to Mini-Bibliographies


Autodidacticism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Category:Autodidacts - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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