American Culture in the 1910s

American Culture in the 1910s

American Culture in the 1910s

American Culture in the 1910s


With the publication of this volume, Edinburgh University Press closes out its extremely successful culture history series, which writes the story of the twentieth century through the cultural and intellectual movements of each decade.

The 1910s were mostly dominated by the horrors of the first modern war, but it also witnessed the flowering of modernism, the birth of Hollywood, and the rise of progressive interpretations of culture and society. Mark Whalan investigates this decade through achievements in fiction and poetry; art and photography; film and vaudeville; and music, theater, and dance. He incorporates detailed commentary and directed case studies of influential texts and events and includes chronologies and bibliographies. He considers Tarzan of the Apes, The Birth of a Nation, the radical modernism of Gertrude Stein, the Provincetown Players, and jazz music's earliest recordings. A concluding chapter explores the impact of the First World War on cultural understandings of nationalism, citizenship, and propaganda.


On 1 January 1920, the New York Times reflected on the decade just past. It had been a dour and a sober New Year celebration, it reported; the impending implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment and the vigilance of Revenue agents had stripped Times Square of its customary frivolity. Moreover, the events of 1919 had given little cause for celebration. One in five American workers had gone on strike, including a general strike in Seattle and a police strike in Boston. President Woodrow Wilson was still suffering from the effects of a massive stroke in October, with his dream of ratifying the Treaty of Versailles and American leadership in the League of Nations close to collapse. Major cities, including Washington DC and Chicago, had experienced terrible race riots, America’s first ‘Red Scare’ had seen the Attorney General’s house targeted by an anarchist bomb, and hundreds of suspected Bolshevik sympathisers had been jailed or deported. As the editorial reflected:

There were times during 1919 when the era leading up to the war
seemed, in the casual retrospect, like some far-off Golden Age… Out
of a world in which whole nations shivered and starved, we looked back
upon a world in which everywhere a mellow plenty smiled. Out of a
world of class revolt and the destruction of moral and material values,
we saw a world of order and established custom, advancing yearly in
wealth and the enjoyment of wealth.

The New York Times has not been alone in seeing the Great War as effecting a seismic change in American society and culture, with several influential early cultural historians labelling 1917 a year which saw the end of a certain kind of ‘American innocence’. For example, Henry May’s path-breaking 1959 work The End of American Innocence: A

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