Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940

By Carl F. Kaestle; Janice A. Radway | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
A Framework for the History of
Publishing and Reading in the United States,
1880–1940

Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway

.  .  .


Social Change and the Culture of Print

Stability has been elusive in all societies undergoing economic growth, technological change, immigration, political contention, and shifting international circumstances. From high offices to local neighborhoods, people have attempted to maintain order in response to multiple sources of diversity, conflict, and incoherence. Although these warring tendencies have been present in all industrial societies, the pace and consequences of change have been more dramatic in some periods than in others. Such was the case between 1880 and 1940, when the United States experienced changes so fundamental that everything was transformed, from the production and purchasing of goods to social relations, to the nature of institutions and modes of communication.

Increasing productivity and faster transportation gave rise to national-scale businesses, which in turn spawned national brand-name products, advertising, and infrastructures of distribution. Educational activity mushroomed, from new research universities that incubated new disciplines to the humble oneroom schoolhouses that lifted African American literacy rates. High school attendance was unevenly distributed but increased from less than 5 percent in 1880 to more than 50 percent in 1940.1

Immigration brought ethnic conflict as well as economic strength. Class consciousness became more pronounced as both the working class and the emerging middle class sought to define their roles in the new economic order. Recently freed slaves and other people of color were integrated into the economy, usually in subordinate positions, a process that caused much opposition but nonetheless achieved an unjust durability across our period. Efforts to achieve order were implemented through force, the uses of capital, the legal system, organizational innovation, persuasion, politics, and legislation. Because the people who sought to manage these changes articulated ideal systems and goals, historians

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