How Cultured Am I (by the standards of the 1950s)?

A guest post by Word & Way president Justin Lievano (CAS 2016). recently posted several pages fromAshley Montagu’s The Cultured Man, 1958. These leaves warrant our interest because they contain quizzes meant to evaluate ones cultural knowledge. Quiz might be generous; taken all together, these questions compose a kind of oral exam to which one might be subjected on his/her way through graduate school.

I find a couple facets of these quizzes striking. First, they rely heavily upon a certain kind of canonical knowledge, both of works that everyone ought to know, and of sweeping generalities of the type one might find in a particularly dry academic monograph. Additionally, some of the questions just offer arbitrary judgements as in the question Do you collect books? to which the answer given is Everyone should collect books. A home without books is a home without a soul.

So, for the enjoyment of our readers, I shall now answer some of the questions, such that you, dear reader, might evaluate whether or not I am cultured.

Define Art.

When I was in the practice of creating sculpture during my high school years, I took it to mean something like sobbing and kneading my lachrymal essence into the clay. No one ever corrected me.

What is a book?

Does it have pictures?

What is the origin of the romantic conception of love in the western world?


What is Puritanism?

I think it has something to do with belt buckles on shoes and hats. Oh! And witch burning, somehow that seems integral.

The Subjection of Women was written by?

Men, I would imagine.

What kings married their own sisters?

Please, let us be honest; all of them.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, that is about all for which I have the time and patience. What do you think, readers? Am I cultured? Is there a definitive way to measure ones cultural prowess? Does the fact that I cannot answer a number of these questions invalidate my extensive knowledge of 19th century American literature and culture, for example? If we can be certain about anything, it is that I do not know.

Should you have any interest in taking the quiz yourself, you can find it here, at the website of Slate magazine.

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