This excerpt from my book manuscript, meant for chapter six, was unfortunately cut during the last round of revisions. The piece is from an even longer section (also cut) where I offered a few rays of sunshine in a chapter that is mostly about the decline of the great books idea in the 1970s. That sunshine derived from the staying power of great books in the Chicago area. Although my book contains numerous citations of Chicago and various Chicago-based institutions (the city is mentioned on 39 pages), I had to cut a significant passage about Shimer College. Like St. John’s College (in Annapolis and Santa Fe), Shimer is one a few schools where the entire curriculum is based on great books. Although Shimer only recently moved to the city itself since 2006, it was located in nearby Waukegan, IL—about 40 miles north of Chicago—from 1978 to 2006. Before Waukegan it was in Mount Carroll, IL, which is about 135 miles west of Chicago. The piece below explains Shimer’s significance to Chicagoans beyond geographical proximity.
Illinois and Chicago’s affinity for the great books idea endured through the Seventies even as sales of Britannica’s set declined and pluralism, or even multiculturalism, began to emerge as the dominant educational paradigm. The Chicago-great books relationship is especially important if one accepts Richard Jensen’s worthy, although somewhat dated, argument that Illinois is a “microcosm of America because its history exhibits basic conflicts” that correlate well with the overall “shaping [of] American society.” The “story of conflict and accommodation” that characterizes Illinois and Chicago,” especially in what Jensen called its post-1968 “postmodern” period, mirrors American history in the Seventies. 
Chicago’s affection for the great books idea found expression in many registers, but manifest in a special way through the city’s concern the fate of great books-based Shimer College. Rather than the top-down, universalist common-sense realism of Adler, the “local knowledge” of Shimer staff, students, and alumni constituted a regionally-colored common-sense great books liberalism—a culturally “organized body of considered thought,” in the spirit of Clifford Geertz, historically conditioned and defined by its relationship with Chicago and the Midwest. 
Although founded in 1853 in Mount Carroll, Illinois, Shimer College’s link to the city began in 1895 with a University of Chicago affiliation. That early connection involved Shimer feeding students to Hyde Park. But a second and more substantial link, involving the great books idea, came into being in 1950. That year Shimer instituted what it referred to as “The Hutchins Plan,” consisting of “the adoption of an integrated curriculum of original sources designed to further the development of skills of thought, speech, and writing.” It also “served as an exemplary basis for lifelong learning.” 
That connection served Shimer well for many years. But in the 1970s the college experienced financial and enrollment troubles—dropping from 450 students in 1966 to about 100 in 1978. It faced three closing scares in the 1973-1977 period. On two occasions only heroic fundraising efforts from alumni, faculty, students, and Mount Carroll residents saved the school. Finally, in 1978, the school was able to reorganize its debt—enabling the sale of its red-brick, Georgian-style Mount Carroll campus and a move to Waukegan in early 1979. In 1978 it also opened a branch campus in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood called, at the time, “The Uptown Community Learning Center.” The move to Waukegan enabled Shimer to better recruit students from the Chicago area. 
Shimer’s links to Chicago transcended even ‘The Hutchins Plan’ and Uptown. Many Chicagoans seemed to have a direct and indirect personal connections to Chicago. The local papers provide some evidence of citizen interest. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, published an astounding 94 articles on Shimer between January 1970 and December 1979: 85 articles, 5 editorials, and 4 letters to the editor. It is hard to know precisely why the Tribune followed Shimer’s story so closely. Was it the product of an overzealous editor or staff member? Reader demand? Effective Shimer staff propaganda? Or momentum in relation to Hutchins, Adler, the University of Chicago affiliation, and the history of the great books in Chicago? In any case, there existed an outsized emotional connection between the school and the city.
Prompted by the first potential closure attempt in November 1973, the Tribune attempted to explain the links between the school and Chicago in November editorial. After noting the school’s “experimental, innovative” nature and many changes (women-only to coeducational, two-year to four-year, Baptist to Episcopal affiliation, and record 59-game basketball losing streak), the paper observed that “for a small school in a small town, Shimer has made considerable news.” The Tribune made special mention of the Harvard Education Review’s assessment that the college, with its great books curriculum, held “an ideal intellectual climate.” Then the Tribune noted local emotional connections: “Many Chicagoans have put some of their lives into Shimer, not only as students but as trustees. The place has attracted unusual people, and been hospitable to a variety of experiments. …Its student leaders proclaim, ‘We are not simply inconvenienced by having to transfer else” “Either Shimer or nothing,” the editorial concluded, “a mindboggling thought.” 
Letters to the Chicago Tribune’s editors, from before and after the editorial, expand on the “Shimer or nothing” sentiment—and help further to flesh out the Chicago connections. Recent Shimer graduate, Mary Caraway (1973), fittingly appropriated the words of a great text—Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—to say that “the only way this nation can continue to be of, for, and by the people is to foster the growth of schools like Shimer College.” In a literal rendering of the spirit of a liberal education, she reflected that “the goal of a Shimer education is to prompt the student to discover that if a person is to be free, he must be able to think. …[The] aim is not to ‘ace’ exams, ‘psych out’ teachers, and put down ‘the masses,’ but to come to a congenial appreciation of the heritage of his country.” Caraway concluded: “At Shimer one develops what is profoundly more important than technical skills: the love of the process of learning.” Another voice from the crowd, Reef Waldrop, who was apparently a college professor of some stripe, wrote that “it shakes me to read that Shimer College is closing.” His fervent hope was that “smallness” in higher education was “not a part of our past”—to Waldrop “human warmth and informality” were necessary in an age of “mass media.” Another letter writer, Henry Molnar, was “stunned and numbed” about the news. 
Shimer alum and Tribune writer, John Maclean, noted Shimer’s “small classes,” intimacy, and “dedication to teaching with original source materials” (read: great books). He also argued that “over the years” Shimer had become “a place of second chances for a group of students who could be called educational misfits.” Some were flunkouts, others had “poor records,” and a small cohort were very young students—ages sixteen, or even fourteen on one occasion—who were intellectually ready for college. Like others, Maclean offered that Shimer exerted “a power…far out of proportion to its small size. Those who love it do so greatly, and with reason.” For Maclean, Molnar, Waldrop, and Caraway, it was “Shimer or nothing.” And the great books idea played a large role in that sentiment. In a final, mid-December 1973 editorial, reflecting on the Shimer crisis and its resolution, the Chicago Tribune concluded “The country needs more Shimers, not fewer.” 
 Richard Jensen, Illinois: A Bicentennial History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), xiv-xviii, 169-170. For a general survey of Illinois history, see Roger Biles, Illinois: A History of the Land and Its People (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005).
 Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, 3rd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 75-76.
 William H. MCNeill, Hutchins’ University: A Memoir of the University of Chicago, 1929-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 166; “History,” Shimer College, available here.
 Diane Amann, “Pupils Flock to Uptown’s New College,” Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1978, N_B5; “The Background,” Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1978, 8; “Shimer College Plans Uptown Branch,” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1978, 36; Michael Hirsley, “Shimer Moving to Wuakegan,” Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1978, A10; Michael Hirsley, “Shimer College Moving to Campus in Waukegan,” Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1979, N4; Jeff Lyon, “For $2.2 Million, College Yours,” Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1979, B1; Bonita Brodt, “Students Not Surprised: Shimer to Reopen for 3d Time,” Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1977, 12.
 “Last Rites for Shimer College?” Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1973, 24.
 “Shimer’s Demise,” Chicago Tribune, November 16, 1973, 20.
 “Shimer Clings to Life,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1973, 22; John Maclean, “Shimer: A small place—but loved,” Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1973, 6.