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That Todd Gitlin, one of the leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s, should have about-faced with regard to early millennial U.S. imperial ventures is one of the defining acts of our intellectual moment. In a New York Times op-ed piece in September of 2002, Gitlin wrote,
The American left … had its version of unilateralism. Responsibility for the [September 11] attacks had, somehow, to lie with American imperialism, because all responsibility has to lie with American imperialism — a perfect echo of the right's idea that all good powers are and should be somehow American. Intellectuals and activists on the far left could not be troubled much with compassion or defense…. Knowing little about Al Qaeda, they filed it under Anti-Imperialism, and American attacks on the Taliban under Vietnam Quagmire. For them, not flying the flag became an urgent cause…. Post-Vietnam liberals have an opening now, freed of our 60s flag anxiety and our reflexive negativity, to embrace a liberal patriotism that is unapologetic and uncowed.
Here, any sense of hesitancy about a war on “terror” is ascribed to a loony left; U.S. imperialism, if it isn't seen as some left fabrication, seems peculiarly untroubling to Gitlin. Indeed, the publication in which his op-ed appeared had published a couple of months earlier (in the New York Times Magazine) an essay by Harvard's Professor of Human Rights Policy [sic] Michael Ignatieff proclaiming imperialism a necessary national exercise: “Imperialism used to be the white man's burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn't stop being necessary because it is politically incorrect.” This, together with Gitlin's call for a “liberal patriotism,” is pitched against what Gitlin elsewhere, in redolent terminology, names the “reflexive anti-Americanism” to be found “on campuses and in coastal cities, in circles where reality checks are scarce.”
In the days after September 11th, 2001, and continuing until now, the national guard and other military personnel fanned out around New York City. Automatic rifles slung over their camouflaged shoulders, they “guarded” New York City's transportation stations, vital corners and thoroughfares, marquee buildings, and each and every bridge and tunnel entrance. Their comportment was usually cordial and rarely vigilant. Exuding the antithesis of an urban sensibility, they complemented the beefy boredom of the police who usually stood nearby, with an almost surreal sense of incredulity; not just “Why am I here?” but a sort of bafflement that anyone would even think they knew how to get to an uptown train. I've grown accustomed to their presence — frighteningly so — but still can't get over their costumes. Green, woodsy camouflage. To blend with Penn Station?!
There is of course an exacting science (and art) of camouflage that involves close study of particular landscapes and the production of patterns that will fade into them so that they may be inhabited by stealth. The U.S. military has dozens of camouflage variants for all manner of apparel, equipment, vessels, and vehicles. But in New York City the military dresses not like bricks or pizza or granite, but in forest and jungle and sometimes Desert Storm fatigues. I walk around wondering why.
In the security state authorized and reinforced (but not ushered in) by September 11th, there has been an explosion of surveillance cameras and other mechanisms of vigilance in and around New York City.
“What's in a name?” Janice A. Radway asked in her 1998 presidential address to the American Studies Association (1), invoking, without explicit comment, a transatlantic literary reference to explore the Americanness of the ASA's title. Such a gesture speaks to the increasingly transatlantic or comparative element apparent in studies of American culture, both in the United States and elsewhere. What's in a collective proper noun? one might also ask. (And don't those words — proper, collective — just itch to be explored themselves?) If anything, American Studies presents itself as neither collective nor proper, but as an arena for the multiple explorations of mythical Americanness and the boundaries and borders of the term. Lee E. Heller argues that the very term American Studies is “reflective of a variety of imperialist erasures and appropriations” (337), but even Radway could come up with no better term to replace it, trying out a variety of cumbersome titles before returning to the original as the inadequate but perhaps inevitable designation of what we as Americanists do.
If Radway (rightly) questioned the American designation, here we might look again at the second term, for American Studies is delineated with a capital S in the United Kingdom, and often (though not always) by a lowercase s in the United States. Does size matter? Is American Studies in the United Kingdom different from American studies as written, read, produced, and enacted in the United States? The clear divisions suggested here — Americans write studies, Britons write Studies — may be as false as the old, nationally bounded constructions of French feminism versus Anglo-American feminism, and the peregrinations of academics across the globe mean that many British Americanists, like ourselves, have America hiding in our backgrounds (if you don't know us) and foregrounded in our accents (if you do).
Treating science fiction, critics have taught us to understand that the field shrugged itself out of the swamp of its pulp origins in two great evolutionary metamorphoses, each associated with a uniquely visionary magazine editor: Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell Jr. Paul Carter, to cite one critic among many, makes a case that Hugo Gernsback's magazines were the first to suggest that
science fiction was not only legitimate extrapolation… [but] might even become a positive incentive to discovery, inspiring some engineer or inventor to develop in the laboratory an idea he had first read about in one of the stories. (5)
Another, critic and author Isaac Asimov, argues that science fiction's fabled
Golden Age began in 1938, when John Campbell became editor of Astounding Stories and remolded it, and the whole field, into something closer to his heart's desire. During the Golden Age, he and the magazine he edited so dominated science fiction that to read Astounding was to know the field entire. (Before the Golden Age, xii)
Critics arrive at such understandings not only by surveying the field but also — perhaps more importantly — by studying, accepting, modifying, or even occasionally rejecting the work of other critics. This indirect and many-voiced conversation is usually seen as a self-correcting process, an informal yet public peer review. Such interested scrutiny has driven science fiction (SF) criticism to evolve from the letters to the editor and editorials and mimeographed essays of the past to the nuanced literary history of today, just as, this literary history states, those firm-minded editors helped SF literature evolve from the primordial fictions of Edgar Rice Burroughs into the sophisticated constructs of William S. Burroughs.
Flags snap in the breeze and smoke hangs menacingly above the ground. Men clash, yield, and die in a desperate battle on the crest of a hill. These images merge to form John Trumbull's painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, 17 June 1775 (Figure 1). It is a dramatic image that appears frequently in print as illustration and cover art. Art historians comment positively on its technical merits, offering a variety of intriguing interpretations. These interpretations, though, frequently overlook the historical context of the original painting. Historical applications pair the painting with an appropriate historical text, but rarely take the opportunity to interpret the painting as a source in its own right. Historian Louis Masur makes this point when he criticizes the use of images in textbooks. Pictures, Masur argues, have become necessary but are not as a general rule presented in a way that asks or even allows for a complete reading of those same images. The loss is not merely in textbooks and other publications. It also occurs in the classroom, where pictures have become necessary backdrops for computer-supported lectures, and on Web site applications, where images dress but seldom add to the text.
This essay argues for a more complete use of images outside and inside the classroom. In doing so, it applies techniques from two disciplines — history and art history — to offer a more complete reading of John Trumbull's The Death of General Warren at Bunker's Hill. This reading is presented from multiple perspectives, including the historical context in which the image was created, the artist's connection to the subject, and his interpretive and technical choices.
This essay offers insights into the American nation's persistent denial and deep-seated fears of its own inextricably multicultural identity at the time of the American Revolution and the first half of the 19th century. American imperialism, and perhaps this is true of all imperialisms, was founded upon a stable hierarchical relationship between “civilized” and “savage.” Rhetorically, indigenous tribespeople seem to have fitted Frantz Fanon's description of “the real other whom the white man perceived on the level of the body image, absolutely as the non-self – that is, the unidentifiable, the unassimilable” (161 n.). On the one hand, the imperialistic drive across the continent in the name of Manifest Destiny, and, on the other, the nation's wishful thinking to constrict the boundaries of American identity into a fixed, pure and homogeneous body of values, unleashed the forces of cultural exclusion. In this essay, I try to show how the dominant white society's narcissistic view of itself as an empire operating under the auspices of Divine Providence actually resulted in a series of political acts of nativist violence. I have deliberately chosen to focus on the dramatic literature of the 19th century as a still largely unexplored territory of American literature in order to trace and expose the contradictory representations of the Native American as both historically absent and integral to the nation's conception of its own identity as the “center.”
The palefaces are all around us, and they tread in blood. The blaze of our burning wigwams flashes awfully in the darkness of their path. We are destroyed — not vanquished; we are no more, yet we are forever.
In October 1865, Jacob Schirmer returned to Charleston, South Carolina, after more than three years refuge from the Civil War in the village of Edge-field, South Carolina. Schirmer had brought his slaves with him to Edgefield, but they did not return to Charleston with him, choosing instead to “realize their Freedom” (diary entry for October 28, 1865). Schirmer, a German American, kept a regular diary from 1826 until his death in 1880. Following the Civil War, though, he also commenced a separate journal — “Our Domestic Trials with Freedmen and Others” — in which he recorded his dealings with domestic workers in the free labor system. He hired three domestic servants: a female cook and washer, a male butler, and a male gardener. For the next twenty-five years, Schirmer struggled with the transition from slavery to freedom. “Our Domestic Trials” documents not only Schirmer's reaction to the revolutionary social changes of the era but also offers a telling picture of the ways in which African Americans responded to their newfound freedom and their determination to maintain that freedom.
Jacob Schirmer was born in 1803 into a well-known German-American family in Charleston. Schirmer's grandfather was Jacob Sass, a reputable Charleston cabinetmaker. Schirmer operated a successful coopering (barrel making) business, and he owned eight buildings in Charleston. He served as president of the Corporation of St. John's Lutheran Church and as treasurer of the German Friendly Society. It does not appear that Schirmer was active in politics, nor was he a member of the German rifle clubs in Charleston (probably because they were formed by German immigrants in the 1850s).
The publication of The Minister's Wooing in 1859 marked a turn in Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictional output. Having published two antislavery novels earlier in the decade, the first of which, of course, made her an international celebrity, she turned to what we think of now as the next phase of her writing career, a series of nostalgic, partly autobiographical novels about historic New England, following Minister's Wooing with The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), Oldtown Folks (1978), and Poganuc People (1878).
Set in 18th-century Newport, Rhode Island, The Minister's Wooing is built around the historical character of Samuel Hopkins, one of the generation of New Divinity theologians, who, having studied under Jonathan Edwards, attempted to carry on his legacy. Stowe's Hopkins is historically accurate to the extent that he is identified in the book with one of the theological teachings for which he was known, “disinterested benevolence,” which meant for him that a true Christian duty was to accede to one's own damnation for the glory of God; he is also, as was the historical Hopkins, an antislavery activist, prodding his Newport congregants who are slave owners or are profiting by the slave trade to exercise that disinterested benevolence in a socially conscious way and withdraw from the sinful practice, even though it may cost them dearly. What Stowe adds is the romance plot alluded to in the title: Hopkins falls in love with the daughter of his landlady, Mary Scudder; she loves a young sailor, James Marvyn, who has been her companion since youth but who is, it seems, unre-generate.
In “The Pornography of Death,” an essay originally published in 1955 and later incorporated into a book-length study, anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer was the first to document a dramatic shift between Victorian and contemporary attitudes toward sexuality and death. Victorian society viewed death as a natural, integral part of life, while sexuality was considered obscene and pornographic, a topic unfit for polite conversation and social discourse. In the 20th century, however, Gorer locates an “unremarked shift in prudery; whereas copulation has become more and more ‘mentionable,’ particularly in the Anglo-Saxon societies, death has become more and more ‘unmentionable’ as a natural process” (195). Responding to Gorer's provocative argument, other scholars have confirmed this cultural shift from acceptance to fear and denial of death, and as popular interest in this phenomenon has developed in the United States, a credible canon of study has formed to fill the previous void in scholarship regarding the historical, psychological, and cultural dimensions of death that simultaneously fascinate and silence Americans. As a result, death in recent decades has become an acceptable field of scholarly inquiry. However, although often viscerally aroused by abstract death and irresistibly drawn to its depiction, Americans as a society remain uncomfortable with death's immediate implications and, in many contexts, avoid contemplating its relationship to their own lives and the lives of those around them.
In contrast, as Charles O. Jackson observes, “The popular mind of antebellum America was saturated with open concern about death,” a concern prompted not only “by ‘actuarial prevalence’ but by ‘existential proximity’ Life expectancy throughout the century remained limited, measured against today's standards, approximately forty years in 1850 and forty-seven at the close of the century” (61).
In the early 1880s, the book Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt brought to the American and British marketplace the most comprehensive visual survey of the Holy Land that had yet appeared. It came at a time when Protestant Christians in both countries felt the need was “urgent” for “accurate” illustrations of these regions that could serve to explain and “defend” the Scriptures against science and the new biblical criticism. To obtain such images, the publishing firms of D. Appleton in New York City and James S. Virtue in London sent the artists John Douglas Woodward and Harry Fenn on extended sketching trips in 1878 and 1879. Published serially from 1881 to 1883, Picturesque Palestine's nine hundred pages and six hundred black-and-white images would constitute the most conspicuous response to the contemporary appeals for illustrations of the Holy Land (Figure 1).
At the same time, it would present these Eastern Mediterranean regions so significant to the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam through the lens of the picturesque — employing familiar aesthetic conventions long popular in British and American view books. In this approach, the artist or traveler searches for elements in the landscape that conform to preset ideas of what constitutes a picture — in this case, those distinguished by pleasing variety, irregularity of form, rough texture, and contrasts of light and dark. Thus, the book is a prime, and quite late, example of the “visualisation of the travel experience,” in which scenic tourism replaced the opportunity to meet and converse with others as the primary appeal of travel. Its comprehensive visual survey is also akin to the displays at the world's fairs so popular in this period that presented various regions and peoples as spectacle or theater.
In the 1850s a diverse, sometimes discordant, collection of New York City public officials, reformers, and physicians came jointly to the conclusion that their city's foundlings constituted a problem in need of immediate solution. While once they had allowed abandoned babies to languish in the almshouse — where their death rate at times reached 100 percent — they now felt that the plight of these unwanted waifs was a judgment on themselves and their society that had to be addressed.
Pressed into action by a force made of both sympathy and anxiety, they got to work. In the decade before the Civil War municipal officials assembled committees to look into the possibility of building a public foundling asylum, reformers conducted investigations, and the press hovered — prodding, accusing, and carrying out investigations of its own. The Civil War brought all this activity to a halt, but as soon as the war was over it resumed. In less than a decade following the end of the war four foundling asylums opened in a city that previously had not had a single one.
Why did these citizens identify the phenomenon of infant abandonment as a problem when they did? What sort of a problem did they think it was? The answers to these questions reveal at least as much about their collective anxieties about such matters as rapid urban growth and fallen women as they do about the plight of the unwanted children they tried to help.
It is difficult to understand this shift in sensibility without understanding what came before it. Antebellum New Yorkers, like their European counterparts, equated infant abandonment with illegitimacy.
Standing on Centre Street in Lower Manhattan in the fall of 1894, the pickpocket and confidence man George Appo felt at tap on his shoulder. “Hello! You are just the fellow I want to see,” announced the criminal attorney and former pugilist Edmund E. Price. “What are you doing now?” Unbeknownst to Appo, he was about to make history.
The ex-convict admitted that he was looking for work. Price quickly made a proposal. In addition to representing some of New York's leading underworld figures — indeed Appo was a former client — Price envisioned himself as a playwright and songwriter. He had recently authored a melodrama based on the 1885 murder of confidence man Theodore “The” Davis. After attempting to swindle several thousand dollars from Texas sheriff James T. Holland, Davis was shot dead by the angry Texan. The case attracted national attention, in part because it exposed the national scope of the green goods game, arguably the most profitable con game in the 19th-century United States. Despite the daily media attention, Holland remained silent for five months until he testified on his own behalf. Price not only defended Holland; he engineered his acquittal.
Decadence — the literary and artistic movement that insisted on the autonomy of art, reveled in the bizarre, artificial, perverse, and arcane, and pitted the artist against bourgeois society — is most strongly associated with fin de siècle British and French culture. Rarely is it associated with America. And yet, its popularity in America may well have surpassed its popularity in either Britain or France. That decadence was among Europe's most successful cultural exports to America in the 1890s is indicated by the rash of decadent Anglophile and Francophile little magazines that emerged in America in this period. Whereas Britain and France had a handful of decadent periodicals between them, America had over one hundred and fifty little magazines in the period from 1894 to 1898, many of them inspired by European decadent periodicals. What Gelett Burgess, founder of the decadent little magazine the Lark called a “little riot of Decadence” (Epilark) erupted all over America, from major centers such as New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco to smaller centers such as Lansing, Michigan, and Portland, Maine. Described at the time variously as fadazines, fadlets, fad magazines, bibelots, ephemerals, decadents, brownie magazines, freak magazines, magazettes, dinkeys, and so on, these magazines were founded by those one contemporary, Arthur Stanwood Pier, labeled the “brilliant cognoscenti and sophisticates,” the “American Oscar Wildes and Aubrey Beardsleys” of the period (quoted in Kraus, 6).
Despite the pervasiveness of the little-magazine phenomenon of the 1890s, these magazines have been all but ignored in recent scholarship. Interest in American periodical history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has focused largely on mass-market periodicals and the development of consumer culture as in recent studies by David Reed, Ellen Gruber Garvey, Richard Ohmann, and Helen Damon-Moore.
Despite its Current Obscurity today, overshadowed by higher-voltage conflicts such as the Civil War and World War II, the U.S.–Mexican War was an almost unqualified triumph for the United States. In terms of military and geopolitical goals, the United States far exceeded even its own expectations. As well as scoring some pretty impressive victories, up to and including storming Mexico City, the United States succeeded in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which concluded the war, to annex huge tracts of land from Mexico for what was even then a bargain-basement price: more than half of Mexico's territory (including Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and significant chunks of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah) for only fifteen million dollars. The advantage of this deal to the newly expanded United States became clearer as only a year after the treaty was signed gold was discovered in California and, within two decades, there was also a thriving silver-mining industry in Nevada.
At the time, of course, the war was huge news. The U.S.–Mexican War generated innumerable items of propaganda and related material. As Ronnie C. Tyler has shown, a huge market in chromolithographs of the war emerged, representing “bravery, nobility, and patriotism” (2). The leading lithographers of the day, such as Nathaniel Currier, Carl Nebel, and James Baillie, sold thousands of oversized lithographs of battle scenes, war heroes, and sentimental themes (Baillie's Soldier's Adieu and Currier's The Sailor's Return were particular favorites). Even more numerous were written and performed reports of the war, from the hundreds of newspaper reports from the front to dime novels, songs, poems, broadsheets, plays, and minstrel shows, as well as the typical 19th-century round of essays, sermons, and oratory.
In January 1932, anthropologist Ruth Benedict writes a letter to her colleague Margaret Mead on fieldwork in New Guinea, bringing Mead up to date on the health of “Papa” Franz Boas. Boas, the academic mentor that Benedict and Mead shared at Columbia University, acts as only the momentary locus for their continuing exchange about life and work and the relationship between the two. After giving “her hospital report,” Benedict turns eagerly to another conversation with Mead, asking, “Did you like The Waves? And did you keep thinking how you'd set down everybody you knew in a similar fashion? I did. I suppose I'm disappointed that she didn't include any violent temperaments, and I want my group of persons to be more varied” (Mead, Anthropologist at Work, 318). Focusing on the depiction of characters in Virginia Woolf's 1931 novel The Waves, Benedict presents modernist fiction as a model for ethnography. However, she completely avoids the literary term character in her discussion of Woolf, a particularly odd omission since Benedict had majored in English at Vassar College and since she and Mead regularly exchanged novels and their own poetry in letters.
Ruth Benedict's reading of The Waves has been cited as evidence of her tendency toward a vaguely “poetic” anthropology, an argument that tends to separate the aesthetic from the sociopolitical in both Benedict and Woolf. In this essay, I consider Benedict's reading of Woolf, together with Margaret Mead's subsequent response, as evidence of a shared critical engagement with character, culture, and sexuality in the early 20th century.
During the Progressive Era, American social settlements played a critical role in helping immigrants adjust to a new life that was puzzling, difficult, and often grueling. Settlements offered immigrants medical help, language classes, art and music lessons, day-care services — and sometimes a place where they could learn to be community leaders. Most often, it is the inspiring work of women reformers that one thinks of in connection with the important work of social settlements. Yet among the many prominent women, several men in the settlement movement were influential and extraordinary in their own right. John Lovejoy Elliott, founder and head worker of the Hudson Guild in New York City, was a prime example.
Although Elliott held such impressive posts as President of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of Settlements (from 1919 to 1923) and was described by one of his contemporaries as “one of the great social workers and spiritual leaders of our time…. a kind of lay saint,” historically Elliott's work has been overshadowed by that of his more famous female counterparts. Yet one could argue that it is Elliott who created and put into practice a settlement house that best addressed the needs of immigrants and most helped the immigrant underclass achieve some independence and political power.
Although John Lovejoy Elliott had a single focus (helping immigrants), female settlement head workers, such as Jane Addams, often pursued a dual goal. They were concerned about helping immigrants, but also were intent on giving college-educated, middle-class or upper-class young American women something to do with their lives. “We have in America,” wrote Addams, “a fast growing number of cultivated young people who have no recognized outlet for their active abilities.”
During the 1910s, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz developed the ambition to create a modern American art and gathered a circle of artists and writers around him who were committed to his spiritual, nature-centered aesthetic. This group of American Moderns is now known as the second Stieglitz circle. A review of the cultural production of this group reveals that concepts of race played a central role in their construction of American modernism. This is especially evident in the discourse about artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who served as the symbol of the aspirations of this circle. Writing under the pseudonym, Search-Light, the writer Waldo Frank made the following observation about the work of O'Keeffe:
Arabesques of branch, form-fugues of fruit and leaf, aspirant trees, shouting skyscrapers of the city — she resolves them all into a sort of whiteness: she soothes the delirious colors of the world into a peaceful whiteness.
As indicated by the title of Frank's essay, “Georgia O'Keeffe: White Paint and Good Order,” the circle felt that O'Keeffe's arrangement of colors, the literal pigments that she used to make her paintings, achieved a harmonious pattern that represented the ideal world they imagined. The use of whiteness to describe their desired configuration of the world was even more apparent in an assessment of O'Keeffe's paintings by cultural critic Paul Rosenfeld:
A white radiance is in all the bright paint felt by this girl… O'Keeffe makes us feel dazzling white in her shrillest scarlet and her heavenliest blue … This art is, a little, a prayer that the indifferent and envious world, always prepared to regard self-respect as an insult to its own frustrate and crushed emotions, may be kept from defiling and wrecking the white glowing place.
This short notice, entitled “When a ‘Hobo’ Works,” which appeared in the New York Times, July 13, 1912, might seem overwrought to contemporary readers in its definitive nature. The need to delineate work and nonwork, however, was quite serious business for Americans in the first decades of the 20th century. During this period, as evidenced in newspaper and journal articles, legislation, and popular culture, there was growing apprehension about the perceived differences and slippage among the ideas of the tramp, the hobo, the vagrant, the unemployed worker, and the worker. Most of this conversation was directed toward defining work and nonwork for men — specifically for white men. Tramping came to be viewed as an affliction of both mind and body, with writers, politicians, and reformers seeking to define the tramp and then theorizing how to put these newly codified bodies to work.
Some of the most complex images of joblessness from this period were produced by the Ashcan school of artists, who frequently portrayed jobless men in their paintings and drawings. The Ashcan school, a group of six realist painters who lived and worked in New York City from 1900 to the First World War, established a national reputation as radicals rebelling against what they argued was a conservative artistic community woefully out of touch with modern American life. Ashcan artists depicted what they claimed to be the realities of the city around them — busy streets, shopgirls, ethnic communities, construction workers, and prostitutes, as well as tramps. John Sloan's The Coffee Line, 1905 (Figure 1), is typical of the kinds of images that Ashcan artists produced. The scene is a snowy winter's night in New York with a band of men in line to get a free cup of coffee. Jobless men are the stars here; unwitting leads in Sloan's slice of New York City life. The painting did much to communicate nationally a visual image of the tramp in New York City; it won honorable mention in 1905 at the Carnegie Institute International Exposition and was then exhibited in Chicago; Spartanburg, South Carolina; Dallas; and Seattle.