Eliot showed his inclination to challenge liberal educational opinion early on when as a student at Harvard he was critical of the decision by its President, his own relative Charles William Eliot, to introduce electives into the university’s undergraduate programme, despite going on to take full advantage of these himself. He was equally critical of the huge diversity of practices in US schools, which meant that students arriving at university lacked a common cultural background on which the higher education curriculum might be built. It is a criticism that applies a fortiori to many contemporary undergraduate history and literature classes in which students’ ignorance of biblical, classical and historical background can make induction into literary and historical topics even more difficult than it was a hundred years ago.