Although few remember their former significance, oysters were one of the largest U.S. fisheries at their peak in the late nineteenth century. As the fishery industrialized on-and offshore, oyster farms and canning factories spread along the Eastern Seaboard, with overharvesting becoming increasingly common. During the Progressive Era, state governments founded new agencies to cope with this problem and control this expanding economy. Regulators faced a choice: keep elaborate conservation systems based on common property rights or develop new ones with private, hatchery-stocked aquaculture farms. The tradition-preserving solution won, laying the groundwork for modern oyster management.
The Aquatic Frontier explores the forms this debate took between 1870 and 1920 in law enforcement, legislative advising, natural science, and oyster cartography. Samuel P. Hanes argues that the effort to centralize and privatize the industry failed due to a lack of understanding of the complex social-ecological systems in place—a common dilemma for environmental managers in this time period and for fisheries management confronting dangers from dwindling populations today.
At the turn of the twentieth century, American journalists transmitted news across the country by telegraph. But what happened when these stories weren't true? In Bad News Travels Fast, Patrick C. File examines a series of libel cases by a handful of plaintiffs—including socialites, businessmen, and Annie Oakley—who sued newspapers across the country for republishing false newswire reports. Through these cases, File demonstrates how law and technology intertwined to influence debates about reputation, privacy, and the acceptable limits of journalism.
This largely forgotten era in the development of American libel law provides crucial historical context for contemporary debates about the news media, public discourse, and the role of a free press. File argues that the legal thinking surrounding these cases laid the groundwork for the more friendly libel standards the press now enjoys and helped to establish today's regulations of press freedom amid the promise and peril of high-speed communication technology.
From the depression of the 1890s through World War I, construction tradesman held an important place in San Francisco's economic, political, and social life. Michael Kazin's award-winning study delves into how the city’s Building Trades Council (BTC) created, accumulated, used, and lost their power. He traces the rise of the BTC into a force that helped govern San Francisco, controlled its potential progress, and articulated an ideology that made sense of the changes sweeping the West and the country. Believing themselves the equals of officeholders and corporate managers, these working and retired craftsmen pursued and protected their own power while challenging conservatives and urban elites for the right to govern. What emerges is a long-overdue look at building trades as a force in labor history within the dramatic story of how the city's 25,000 building workers exercised power on the job site and within the halls of government, until the forces of reaction all but destroyed the BTC.
"This is the best treatment scholars
have of black life in a southern state at the beginning of the twentieth century."
-- Howard N. Rabinowitz,
Journal of American History
"The author shows clearly and forcefully
the ways in which this [white] system abused and controlled the black lower
caste in Georgia." -- Lester C. Lamon, American Historical Review.
"Dittmer has a faculty for lucid exposition of complicated subjects. This is
especially true of the sections on segregation, racial politics, disfranchisement,
woman's suffrage and prohitibion, the neo-slavery in agriculture, and the racial
violence whose threat and reality hung like a pall over all of Georgia throughout
the period." -- Donald L. Grant, Georgia Historical Quarterly.
Four men played leading roles in the political drama that unfolded in South Texas during the first decades of this century:• James B. Wells, who ruled as boss of Cameron County and served as leading conservative spokesman of the Democratic Party in Texas;• Archer (Archie) Parr, whose ruthless tactics and misuse of public funds in Duval County established him as one of the most notoriously corrupt politicians in Texas history;• Manuel Guerra, Mexican American rancher and merchant whose domination of Starr County mirrored the rule of his Anglo counterparts in the border region;• John Nance Garner, who served the interests of these bosses of South Texas as he set forth on the road that would lead him to the United States vice-presidency.Evan Anders' Boss Rule in South Texas tells the story of these men and the county rings they shaped in South Texas during the Progressive Era. Power was the byword of the bosses of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Anders explores the sources of that power. These politicos did not shirk from using corrupt and even violent means to attain their goals, but Anders demonstrates that their keen sensitivity to the needs of their diverse constituency was key to their long-term success. Patronage and other political services were their lifeblood, and the allies gained by these ranged from developers and businessmen to ranchers and Mexican Americans, wealthy and poor. Besides examining the workings of the Democratic machines of four South Texas counties, Anders explores the role of the Hispanic populace in shaping the politics of the border region, the economic development of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and its political repercussions, the emergence and nature of progressive movements at both local and state levels, and the part played by the Texas Rangers in supporting bossism in South Texas.
Examines public discourse from the Progressive Era over the state’s right to regulate women’s bodies and their reproduction
When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes determined in 1927 that sterilization was a legitimate means of safeguarding the nation’s health, he was asserting the state’s right to regulate the production of the national body. His opinion represented a culmination of arguments about reproduction and immigration that had been circulating for years but that intensified during the Progressive Era. Arguments about reproductive and immigration practices surged to the foreground, and tectonic shifts in the conceptual schemes and practices of reproduction in the United States followed.
Drawing on feminist historiography and genre studies, Corporal Rhetoric: Regulating Reproduction in the Progressive Era explores the rhetoric of medical research, new technologies, and material practices that shifted the idea of childbirth as an act of God or Nature to a medical procedure enacted by male physicians on the bodies of women made passive by both drugs and discourse. Barbara Schneider considers how efficiency, the hallmark of scientific management, was raised to a cardinal virtue by its inclusions in the powerful mediums of presidential speeches, national educational policies, and eugenics discourse to reclassify babies, long regarded as gifts, as either valuable assets or defective products.
Schneider shows how the legal system drew upon medicine, scientific management, and the emerging discipline of sociology to restrict women’s labor in order to preserve reproductive capacity, categorized by Supreme Court opinions as a public good rather than a private capacity. Throughout, she ties the arguments developed during this era to current debates about mothering rhetorics, reproductive rights, immigration, and conceptions of the nation.
By weaving together medical research reports, clinical practices, case studies, legal opinions and legislative acts, and the epistemology of scientific management, Schneider illuminates the network that women such as Margaret Sanger, Jane Addams, Lillian Gilbreth and multiple others negotiated as they sought to give women room to exercise their reproductive capacity. Through her analysis of the machinery of these discourses and the material uptake of their genres in the daily practices of reproductive bodies, Schneider offers a provisional theory of corporal rhetoric that begins to answer the call for a new material theory of the body.
A century ago, governments buoyed by Progressive Era–beliefs began to assume greater responsibility for protecting and rescuing citizens. Yet the aftermath of two disasters in the United States–Canada borderlands--the Salem Fire of 1914 and the Halifax Explosion of 1917--saw working class survivors instead turn to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members for succor and aid. Both official and unofficial responses, meanwhile, showed how the United States and Canada were linked by experts, workers, and money.
In Disaster Citizenship, Jacob A. C. Remes draws on histories of the Salem and Halifax events to explore the institutions--both formal and informal--that ordinary people relied upon in times of crisis. He explores patterns and traditions of self-help, informal order, and solidarity and details how people adapted these traditions when necessary. Yet, as he shows, these methods--though often quick and effective--remained illegible to reformers. Indeed, soldiers, social workers, and reformers wielding extraordinary emergency powers challenged these grassroots practices to impose progressive "solutions" on what they wrongly imagined to be a fractured social landscape.
In the early twentieth century, public health reformers approached the task of ameliorating unsanitary conditions and preventing epidemic diseases with optimism. Using exhibits, they believed they could make systemic issues visual to masses of people. Embedded within these visual displays were messages about individual action. In some cases, this meant changing hygienic practices. In other situations, this meant taking up action to inform public policy. Reformers and officials hoped that exhibits would energize America's populace to invest in protecting the public's health. Exhibiting Health is an analysis of the logic of the production and the consumption of this technique for popular public health education between 1900 and 1930. It examines the power and limits of using visual displays to support public health initiatives.
The United States government thought it could make Indians “vanish.” After the Indian Wars ended in the 1880s, the government gave allotments of land to individual Native Americans in order to turn them into farmers and sent their children to boarding schools for indoctrination into the English language, Christianity, and the ways of white people. Federal officials believed that these policies would assimilate Native Americans into white society within a generation or two. But even after decades of governmental efforts to obliterate Indian culture, Native Americans refused to vanish into the mainstream, and tribal identities remained intact. This revisionist history reveals how Native Americans' sense of identity and “peoplehood” helped them resist and eventually defeat the U.S. government's attempts to assimilate them into white society during the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Tom Holm discusses how Native Americans, though effectively colonial subjects without political power, nonetheless maintained their group identity through their native languages, religious practices, works of art, and sense of homeland and sacred history. He also describes how Euro-Americans became increasingly fascinated by and supportive of Native American culture, spirituality, and environmental consciousness. In the face of such Native resiliency and non-Native advocacy, the government's assimilation policy became irrelevant and inevitably collapsed. The great confusion in Indian affairs during the Progressive Era, Holm concludes, ultimately paved the way for Native American tribes to be recognized as nations with certain sovereign rights.
A critical examination of the Woman’s Missionary Union and how it shaped the views of Southern Baptist women
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), founded in 1888, carved out a uniquely feminine space within the Southern Baptist Convention during the tumultuous years of the Progressive Era when American theologians were formulating the social gospel. These women represented the Southern Baptist elite and as such had the time to read, write, and discuss ideas with other Southern progressives. They rubbed shoulders with more progressive Methodist and Presbyterian women in clubs and ecumenical missionary meetings. Baptist women studied the missionary publications of these other denominations and adopted ideas for a Southern Baptist audience.
Home without Walls: Southern Baptist Women and Social Reform in the Progressive Era shows how the social attitudes of women were shaped at the time. By studying primary documents—including personal letters, official exchanges and memoranda, magazine publications, newsletters, and editorials—Carol Crawford Holcomb uncovers ample evidence that WMU leaders, aware of the social gospel and sympathetic to social reform, appropriated the tools of social work and social service to carry out their missionary work.
Southern Baptist women united to build a financial empire that would sustain the Southern Baptists through the Great Depression and beyond. Their social attitudes represented a kaleidoscope of contrasting opinions. By no stretch of the imagination could WMU leaders be characterized as liberal social gospel advocates. However, it would also be wrong to depict them as uniformly hostile to progressivism or ignorant of contemporary theological ideas. In the end, they were practical feminists in their determination to provide a platform for women’s views and a space for women to do meaningful work.
Kenneth Abraham explores the development and interdependency of the tort liability regime and the insurance system in the United States during the twentieth century and beyond, including the events of September 11, 2001.
From its beginning late in the nineteenth century, the availability of liability insurance led to the creation of new forms of liability, heavily influenced expansion of the liabilities that already existed, and continually promoted increases in the amount of money that was awarded in tort suits. A “liability-and-insurance spiral” emerged, in which the availability of liability insurance encouraged the imposition of more liability, and, in turn, the imposition of liability encouraged the further spread of insurance.
Liability insurance was not merely a source of funding for ever-greater amounts of tort liability. Liability insurers came to dominate tort litigation. They defended lawsuits against their policyholders, and they decided which cases to settle, fight, or appeal. The very idea behind insurance––that spreading losses among large numbers of policyholders is desirable––came to influence the ideology of tort law. To serve the aim of loss spreading, liability had to expand.
Today the tort liability and insurance systems constantly interact, and to reform one the role of the other must be fully understood.
What does it mean to turn the public library or museum into a civic forum? Made in Newark describes a turbulent industrial city at the dawn of the twentieth century and the ways it inspired the library's outspoken director, John Cotton Dana, to collaborate with industrialists, social workers, educators, and New Women.
This is the story of experimental exhibitions in the library and the founding of the Newark Museum Associationùa project in which cultural literacy was intertwined with civics and consumption. Local artisans demonstrated crafts, connecting the cultural institution to the department store, school, and factory, all of which invoked the ideal of municipal patriotism. Today, as cultural institutions reappraise their relevance, Made in Newark explores precedents for contemporary debates over the ways the library and museum engage communities, define heritage in a multicultural era, and add value to the economy.
To combat behavior they viewed as sexually promiscuous, politically undesirable, or downright criminal, social activists in Progressive-era New York employed private investigators to uncover the roots of society’s problems. New York Undercover follows these investigators—often journalists or social workers with no training in surveillance—on their information-gathering visits to gambling parlors, brothels, and meetings of criminal gangs and radical political organizations.
Drawing on the hundreds of detailed reports that resulted from these missions, Jennifer Fronc reconstructs the process by which organizations like the National Civic Federation and the Committee of Fourteen generated the knowledge they needed to change urban conditions. This information, Fronc demonstrates, eventually empowered government regulators in the Progressive era and beyond, strengthening a federal state that grew increasingly repressive in the interest of pursuing a national security agenda. Revealing the central role of undercover investigation in both social change and the constitution of political authority, New York Undercover narrates previously untold chapters in the history of vice and the emergence of the modern surveillance state.
The American Progressive Era, which spanned from the 1880s to the 1920s, is generally regarded as a dynamic period of political reform and social activism. In Performing the Progressive Era, editors Max Shulman and Chris Westgate bring together top scholars in nineteenth- and twentieth-century theatre studies to examine the burst of diverse performance venues and styles of the time, revealing how they shaped national narratives surrounding immigration and urban life. Contributors analyze performances in urban centers (New York, Chicago, Cleveland) in comedy shows, melodramas, Broadway shows, operas, and others. They pay special attention to performances by and for those outside mainstream society: immigrants, the working-class, and bohemians, to name a few. Showcasing both lesser-known and famous productions, the essayists argue that the explosion of performance helped bring the Progressive Era into being, and defined its legacy in terms of gender, ethnicity, immigration, and even medical ethics.
Published in Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial year, this fourth volume in The History of Wisconsin series covers the twenty tumultuous years between the World's Columbian Exposition and the First World War when Wisconsin essentially reinvented itself, becoming the nation's "laboratory of democracy."
The period known as the Progressive Era began to emerge in the mid-1890s. A sense of crisis and a widespread clamor for reform arose in reaction to rapid changes in population, technology, work, and society. Wisconsinites responded with action: their advocacy of women's suffrage, labor rights and protections, educational reform, increased social services, and more responsive government led to a veritable flood of reform legislation that established Wisconsin as the most progressive state in the union.
As governor and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., was the most celebrated of the Progressives, but he was surrounded by a host of pragmatic idealists from politics, government, and the state university. Although the Progressives frequently disagreed over priorities and tactics, their values and core beliefs coalesced around broad-based participatory democracy, the application of scientific expertise to governance, and an active concern for the welfare of all members of society-what came to be known as "the Wisconsin Idea."
Public health as a discipline grew out of traditional Western medicine but expanded to include interests in social policy, hygiene, epidemiology, infectious disease, sanitation, and health education. This book, the first of a two-volume set, is a collection of important and representative historical texts that serve to trace and to illuminate the development of conceptions, policies, and treatments in public health from the dawn of Western civilization through the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century.
The editors provide annotated readings and biographical details to punctuate the historical timeline and to provide students with insights into the progression of ideas, initiatives, and reforms in the field. From Hippocrates and John Graunt in the early period, to John Snow and Florence Nightingale during the nineteenth-century sanitary reform movement, to Upton Sinclair and Margaret Sanger in the Progressive Era, readers follow the identification, evolution, and implementation of public health concepts as they came together under one discipline.
An unprecedented examination of class-bridging reform and U.S. literary history at the turn of the twentieth century
Reading for Reform rewrites the literary history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century America by putting social reform institutions at the center of literary and cultural analysis. Examining the vibrant, often fractious literary cultures that developed as part of the Progressive mandate to uplift the socially disadvantaged, it shows that in these years reformers saw literature as a way to combat the myriad social problems that plagued modern U.S. society. As they developed distinctly literary methods for Americanizing immigrants, uplifting and refining wage-earning women, and educating black students, their institutions gave rise to a new social purpose for literature.
Class-bridging reform institutions—the urban settlement house, working girls’ club, and African American college—are rarely addressed in literary history. Yet, Laura R. Fisher argues, they engendered important experiments in the form and social utility of American literature, from minor texts of Yiddish drama and little-known periodical and reform writers to the fiction of Edith Wharton and Nella Larsen. Fisher delves into reform’s vast and largely unexplored institutional archives to show how dynamic sites of modern literary culture developed at the margins of social power.
Fisher reveals how reformist approaches to race, class, religion, and gender formation shaped American literature between the 1880s and the 1920s. In doing so, she tells a new story about the fate of literary practice, and the idea of literature’s practical value, during the very years that modernist authors were proclaiming art’s autonomy from concepts of social utility.
In his time, Robert Hallowell Gardiner III (1855–1924) was the heart and soul of the Progressive Era’s movement to establish cooperation among all Christian churches. Gardiner’s legacy today is the World Council of Churches. From his home on the Kennebec River and from the Maine town that bears his family’s name, Gardiner carried on an extensive letter-writing campaign on behalf of the reunion of worldwide Christianity. John F. Woolverton incorporates Gardiner’s eleven thousand letters, as well as his published speeches and articles and family records, to present the first biography of a man who was a seminal figure in the early twentieth-century Christian ecumenical movement.
Gardiner was remarkable in that, as a layperson in the traditionally clergy-dominated, hierarchical Episcopal Church, he was able to bring along his own often reluctant denomination, as well as the Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches, major American and European Protestant bodies, and for a time the Roman Catholic Church itself. In addition, in the 1890s Gardiner was a leader in Boston’s famous Social Gospel, moving on to the Young Manhood Movement of the 1910s. He was an outspoken advocate for giving women a voice and vote in the church, as well as a leader in the major 1916 revision of Christian education in his denomination.
In his study, Woolverton analyzes Gardiner’s commitment as an internationalist to multilateral peace efforts on the threshold of World War I. He also discusses Gardiner’s relationships with well-known figures from that era: U.S. Senator George Wharton Pepper, Francis Stetson, John R. Mott, Newman Smyth, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, John J. Wynne, Cardinal James Gibbons, Episcopal Bishop Charles Henry Brent, and Vida D. Scudder.
Woolverton shows how, despite the ravages of war, Gardiner was able to build a vast network of cooperating political and religious leaders. American historians of the Progressive Era, church historians, and theological students will welcome this valuable addition to the historical literature on the social gospel.
Discussions of Tennessee women’s history during the Progressive Era tend to focus narrowly on the critical issue of suffrage and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. While the achievement of Tennessee’s suffragists remains a feather in the state’s historic cap—pushing the legislature to cast the votes that settled the issue for the nation—reform-minded Tennessee women in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries participated in a wide range of other public-sphere activities. The first exploration of the work and lives of Progressive Era Tennessee women beyond their involvement in the battle for the right to vote, this pioneering compilation provides a fuller portrait of the work undertaken by these bold activists to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.
Ranging in subject matter from the role of women’s missionary organizations and efforts to end lynching to the challenges of agricultural reform and the development of stronger educational institutions, these essays consider a wide variety of reform efforts that engaged progressive women in Tennessee before, during, and after the suffrage movement. Throughout, the contributors emphasize the influence of religion on women’s reform efforts and examine the ways in which these women expanded their public roles while at the same time professing loyalty to more traditional models of womanhood. In demonstrating Tennessee women’s engagement with politics long before they had the vote, ran for office, or served on juries, these essays also support the argument that a broader definition of “politics” permits a fuller incorporation of women’s public activities into U.S. political history.
By focusing on the actual work reform-minded women performed, whether paid employment or volunteer efforts, this anthology illustrates myriad ways in which these individuals engaged their communities and reveals the motivations that drove them to improve society. Marshaling precise and detailed evidence that illuminates the meanings of progressivism to Tennessee’s female activists, the essays in this valuable compendium connect Tennessee women to the larger movements for reform that dominated the early-twentieth-century American experience.
Mary A. Evins is an associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University.
The revised and expanded edition of Touching Base examines the myths, realities, symbols, and rituals of America's national pastime. Steven Riess details the relationships among urban politics, communities, and baseball while exploring how Progressive Era sensibilities shaped debates over issues like Sunday games, ballpark construction, and promotion of the games. Focusing on Atlanta, New York, and Chicago, Riess looks at all the participants--from spectators to owners to players--in analyzing how baseball both influenced and mirrored broader society.
The dawn of the twentieth century saw the birth of the New Woman, a cultural and literary ideal that replaced Victorian expectations of domesticity with visions of social, political, and economic autonomy. Although such writers as Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin treated these ideals in well-known literature of that era, marginalized women also explored changing gender roles in works that deserve more attention today.
This book is the first study to focus solely on multiethnic women writers’ responses to the ideal of the New Woman in America, opening up a world of literary texts that provide new insight into the phenomenon. Charlotte Rich reveals how these authors uniquely articulated the contradictions of the American New Woman, and how social class, race, or ethnicity impacted women’s experiences of both public and private life in the Progressive era.
Rich focuses on the work of writers representing five distinct ethnicities: Native Americans S. Alice Callahan and Mourning Dove, African American Pauline Hopkins, Chinese American Sui Sin Far, Mexican American María Cristina Mena, and Jewish American Anzia Yezierska. She shows that some oftheir works contain both affirmative and critical portraits of white New Women; in other cases, while these authorsalign their multiethnic heroines with the new ideals, those ideals are sometimes subordinated to more urgent dialogues about inequality and racial violence.
Here are views of women not usually encountered in fiction of this era. Callahan’s and Mourning Dove’s novels allude to women’s rights but ultimately privilege critiques of violence against Native Americans. Hopkins’s novels trace an increasingly pessimistic trajectory, drawing cynical conclusions about black women’s ability to thrive in a prejudiced society. Mena’s magazine portraits of Mexican life present complex critiques of this independent ideal of womanhood. Yezierska’s stories question the philanthropy of socially privileged Progressive female reformers with whom immigrant women interact. These writers’ works sometimes affirm emerging ideals but in other cases illuminate the iconic New Woman’s blindness to her own racial and economic privilege.
Through her insightful analysis, Rich presents alternative versions of female autonomy, with characters living outside the mainstream or moving between cultures. Transcending the New Woman offers multiple ways of transcending an ideal that was problematic in its exclusivity, as well as an entrée to forgotten works. It shows how the concept of the New Woman can be seen in newly complex ways when viewed through the writings of authors whose lives often embody the New Woman’s emancipatory goals—and whose fictions both affirm and complicateher aspirations.
Between 1890 and 1920, the forces accompanying industrialization sent the familiar nineteenth-century world plummeting toward extinction. The traditional countryside with its villages and family farms was eclipsed by giant corporations and sprawling cities. America appeared headed into an unknown future.
In lively, accessible prose, John Chambers incorporates the latest scholarship about the social, cultural, political, and economic changes which produced modern America. He illuminates the experiences of blacks, Asians, Latinos, as well as other working men and women in the cities and countryside as they struggled to improve their lives in a transformed economy. He explores the dimensions of the new consumer society and the new information and entertainment industries: newspapers, magazines, the movies. Striding these pages are many of the prominent individuals who shaped the attitudes and institutions of modern America: J. P. Morgan and corporate reorganization; Jane Addams and the origin of modern social work; Mary Pickford and the new star-oriented motion picture industry; and the radical labor challenge of “Big Bill” Haywood and the “Wobblies.”
While recognizing a “progressive ethos”—a mixture of idealistic vision and pragmatic reforms—which dominated the mainstream reforms that characterized the period, Chambers elaborates the role of civic volunteerism as well as the state in achieving directed social change. He also emphasizes the importance of radical and conservative political forces in shaping the so-called “Progressive Era.”
The revised edition in this classic work has an updated bibliography and a new preface, both of which incorporate particularly the new social and cultural research of the past decade.
For centuries, people have been thinking and writing—and fiercely debating—about the meaning of marriage. Just a hundred years ago, Progressive era reformers embraced marriage not as a time-honored repository for conservative values, but as a tool for social change.
In Until Choice Do Us Part, Clare Virginia Eby offers a new account of marriage as it appeared in fiction, journalism, legal decisions, scholarly work, and private correspondence at the turn into the twentieth century. She begins with reformers like sexologist Havelock Ellis, anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons, and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who argued that spouses should be “class equals” joined by private affection, not public sanction. Then Eby guides us through the stories of three literary couples—Upton and Meta Fuller Sinclair, Theodore and Sara White Dreiser, and Neith Boyce and Hutchins Hapgood—who sought to reform marriage in their lives and in their writings, with mixed results. With this focus on the intimate side of married life, Eby views a historical moment that changed the nature of American marriage—and that continues to shape marital norms today.
In Virtual Modernism, Katherine Biers offers a fresh view of the emergence of American literary modernism from the eruption of popular culture in the early twentieth century. Employing dynamic readings of the works of Stephen Crane, Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein, she argues that American modernist writers developed a “poetics of the virtual” in response to the rise of mass communications technologies before World War I. These authors’ modernist formal experimentation was provoked by the immediate, individualistic pleasures and thrills of mass culture. But they also retained a faith in the representational power of language—and the worth of common experience—more characteristic of realism and naturalism. In competition with new media experiences such as movies and recorded music, they simultaneously rejected and embraced modernity.
Biers establishes the virtual poetics of these five writers as part of a larger “virtual turn” in the United States, when a fascination with the writings of Henri Bergson, William James, and vitalist philosophy—and the idea of virtual experience—swept the nation. Virtual Modernism contends that a turn to the virtual experience of language was a way for each of these authors to carve out a value for the literary, both with and against the growth of mass entertainments. This technologically inspired reengagement with experience was formative for American modernism.
Situated at the crossing points of literary criticism, philosophy, media studies, and history, Virtual Modernism provides an examination of Progressive Era preoccupations with the cognitive and corporeal effects of new media technologies that traces an important genealogy of present-day concerns with virtuality.