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The Cooper Union: The (Un)making of a Civic Institution

Tuesday, March 8, 2016, 7 - 8:30pm

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Abraham Lincoln in The Great Hall

Abraham Lincoln in The Great Hall

In the 1850s Peter Cooper proposed a radical experiment in urban education, only one feature of which was the program of free classes in science and art. What was the Founder's original understanding of "freedom" on the eve of The Civil War?  How did his laboratory for democracy challenge prevailing notions of education and civic life, and how has his language been hijacked by those who seek to mine value from the legacy of Nineteenth Century liberalism?  Looking again at Peter Cooper's words may restore the vitality of Cooper Union's institutional purpose.

Cooper Union's own Peter Buckley and Day Gleeson present a free, public lecture as part of the Spring 2016 Intradisciplinary Seminar, part of the Robert Lehman Visiting Artist Program at The Cooper Union. We are grateful for major funding support from the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.

Peter Buckley, associate professor in the Faculty for Humanities and Social Sciences, apart from brief stints at Princeton University and Pratt Institute, has taught history at The Cooper Union for most of his working life.  An historian of 19th century New York's culture he was fortunate to end up teaching at a place he was already studying in graduate school.  At work on a history of The Cooper Union he is annoyed at having to write an additional chapter that coincides with the period of his own tenure.

Day Gleeson, associate professor and academic advisor, has been a member of the full-time faculty in the School of Art since 1985, teaching printmaking and drawing. Her exemplary service to the College includes a year as Interim Dean and membership on every standing committee in the School of Art. She has chaired the Admissions Committee for over twenty years and is currently the Academic Advisor. In her own work, she is currently engaged in a project investigating the suffrage movement and the role of its radical activities in establishing feminism as a fundamental human right. "Breaking into the Human Race" was a project she curated in 2009 about women's rights as played out in the Great Hall at Cooper Union.

Located in The Great Hall, in the Foundation Building, 7 East 7th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.