Semester of Graduation

Spring, 2021

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

In 1925, a Tennessee court case prosecuting a high school teacher for instructing his students on the theory of evolution enthralled the country. To Americans listening to the proceedings over the radio or following it in the newspapers, the case appeared to showcase the beginning of a culture war in America. Historians have largely maintained that appraisal in the intervening century. The Tennessee law in question, however, was neither the beginning nor the end of a legislative trend that dominated the decade. Three years before the nation turned its attention to Tennessee, many Americans watched as Kentucky considered the first legislation aimed to limit high school teachers and university professors from including evolution in their science curricula. This thesis focuses on this earlier debate and argues that by concentrating historical attention only on national discussions of anti-evolution bills, Americans have exaggerated the differences between each other. The 1922 discussions in Kentucky elevated the state’s regular citizens alongside religious and academic leaders as they considered the role of science and faith in their communities. By examining the Kentucky anti-evolution debate, it is clear that American shared religious and patriotic values and were willing to make compromises with each other in ways that historians have often neglected.

Committee Chair

Gutfreund, Zevi

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