In the late 1950s and early 1960s a number of British “scholarship boys” traveled to America sponsored by British and American foundations. Their experiences in the United States qualify and complicate existing narratives about upwardly mobile meritocrats. First, Americans regarded these figures in a manner that helped alter their view of themselves. Distinctions that mattered in Britain became less significant in America, though scholarship boys remained shrewd enough to penetrate the veneer of a superficial egalitarianism. National identity became a marker that sidelined residual anxieties about social hierarchy. Second, American prosperity affected the bias against consumerism shared by many British intellectuals during the mid-twentieth century. As professionals supported by government or educational institutions, these visitors differentiated themselves from those in the private sector, which pursued other goals. America exposed scholarship boys to a system that assimilated consumerism without sacrificing professionalism and a commitment to social progress.
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