1700 - 1820
• This period showed religious, intellectual, and economic expansion of the thirteen colonies. The Age of the Enlightenment emphasized the ability for individuals to understand the universe and placed premium on mutual sentiment. This caused greater social mobility and cultural acceptance of different ideals. Economic expansion in agriculture and shipping and population expansion of the colonies that led to cosmopolitan comforts and wealth. Indentured slaves and indentured servants worked on the plantations. A colonial settlers expanded, Indian communities disappeared. The religion of Deism was introduced, as well as the idea that people were basically good. In response to the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening encouraged people to return to the Calvinist faith. The Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence and its intention to break from England. Eventually the U.S. Constitution declared the basis for government. Native Americans and African Americans gained nothing during this time period.
Important People and Works
- Isaac Newton - scientific and philosophical writing
- John Locke - natural rights
- Benjamin Franklin - Autobiography; involved in many important documents of the time.
- George Whitefield - great Methodist orator during the Great Awakening
- Johnathan Edwards - Calvinist preacher
- Thomas Jefferson - Declaration of Independence
- Thomas Paine - wrote Common Sense (1776) and The American Crisis
1820 - 1865
This period was characterized by instabilities over territorial boundaries within the growing country and unresolved conflicts over issues such as slavery, tariffs, and federal works projects. Cities grew and canals and railroads made travel easier. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was the first national suffrage meeting for women. The Civil War between the North and South emancipated the slaves.
1865 - 1914
Between 1865 and 1914, the United States transformed from a country just emerging from a destructive Civil War to an Imperial Nation with overseas possessions and coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific. The transcontinental railroad opened up the interior to settlement. Innovations such as the telegraph, telephone, and electricity spurred settlement in the West and a burst of industrialization. There was a massive influx of immigrants seeking jobs came from Europe and China. Americans turned their attentions overseas in an attempt to join European Empires in the world stage. There were increasing class divisions between the wealthy and the working/low classes. As a result of the Westward expansion, Native Americans in the Great Plains were disrupted. Much of the Native American's land was taken through the Homestead Act of 1892 and by railroad companies, leaving them with only small reservations. The corporate power of different industries were focused in the hands of powerful men. Workers were in a bad position because of inhumane working conditions, low wages, and corrupt government officials. This resulted in efforts to form unions, which usually ended violently.
Important People and Works
- Fredrick Jackson Turner – declared the frontier closed
- J.P. Morgan – an American financier and banker who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation
- John Rockefeller – an American oil industry business magnate and philanthropist
- Cornelius Vanderbilt – an American business magnate and philanthropist who built his wealth in railroads and shipping
- Andrew Carnegie – a Scottish American industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century
- Abraham Cahan – started Jewish Daily Forward which catered to the Yiddish-speaking New York Reader
- Overland Express – periodical that featured Western-themed fiction and journalism
- Hamlin Garland and Frank Norris - muckrakers that took on the railroad monopoly on behalf of small farmers
- Lincoln Steffens – exposed corruption of officials such as Boss Tweed
- Helen Hunt Jackson – wrote A Century of Dishonor (1881) which attacked injustice against Native Americans
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman – wrote Women and Economics (1898) which explored wealth and women’s rights
- Thorstein Veblen – wrote Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) which examined the “conspicuous consumption” of the super wealthy
- Booker T. Washington – wrote Up from Slavery (1900) which responded to racial injustices by challenging white audiences to work toward political solutions
- W. E. B. Du Bois – wrote The Souls of Black Folk (1903) which responded to racial injustices by challenging white audiences to work toward political solutions
1914 - 1945
Between 1914 and 1945, the United States engaged in two world wars and emerged as a modern nation and a major world power. Exclusionary immigration was measured in response to the “Red Scare” of suspicion about foreign control over labor union activities. There was a newly favorable currency exchange rate. The United States participated in World War One and African Americans wanted the rights they gained in the war to stay. Some people were inspired by Communist movement to agitate for fairer pay and conditions. The stock market crashed in 1929 and the United States sank into the Great Depression. This caused social tensions that lasted until World War Two. Through the NAACP and journals, Du Bois and others argued for the intellectual and cultural achievements of African Americans. The trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti demonstrated the resistance to social change. Rapid advances in science and technology contributed to the modernization of America, resulting in pop culture. New inventions served to standardize American cultural tastes. The invention of the automobile created new industries and a large network of roads. The new scientific breakthroughs and theories threatened traditional role of science and became a method of interpreting reality. The United States became involved in World War II as fascist dictators rose to power overseas.
Important People and Works
- Sigmund Freud – sexual and psychological theories; developed the idea of the unconscious which created a more permissive attitude toward sexual freedom
- W.E.B. Du Bois – contributed social and racial writings; wrote The Souls of Black Folks which identified the black psyche as a double conscious of them as Americans and their racial stereotypes.
- Karl Marx – economic and political program; encouraged workers to reject individualistic ethos in favor of collective action, inspired the Russian Revolution of 1921
- Albert Einstein – scientist; theories of relativity
- Heisenberg – uncertainty principle
- Franklin Roosevelt – president; proposed New Deal which offered a pragmatic solution to the failure of free market capitalism
- Joseph Stalin – Russian dictator
- Adolph Hitler – dictator of Germany
- T. S. Eliot – wrote Waste Land which referred to classical narratives through allusion and contained a self-reflective search for meaning.
- Ernest Hemmingway – commercially successful writer
- F. Scott Fitzgerald – commercially successful writer
- Kay Boyle and Raymond Chandler – blurred the divide between middlebrow culture and high art.
- Armory Show of Cubist Paintings
- Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
After World War II, the United States emerged as the strongest world power and assumed the role of speaking on behalf of liberal democratic ideals. The US built on its success in the conflict, while the empires of Britain and France dissolved. The Cold War was an ideological struggle of communism vs. capitalism between the US and Russia. Both sides tried to deter their enemies economically. America won, but only after battles in Korea and Vietnam. This period was characterized by cultural conformity and nationalist ambition, cultural introspection, and consolidated the progress made in previous years. American society became fascinated with cultural homogeneity and political unity. Women wanted to keep the jobs they had during the war, while African Americans wanted to keep the status they gained. American competition with the Soviet Union took the form of political containment of the Russians and Chinese through international organizations. These organizations included the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The managerial class was created and began to prosper. John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. The assassination of Kennedy began a cultural revolution in which unrest over the Vietnam War resulted in urban violence and movements for the betterment of blacks, women, and Native Americans. The Vietnam war escalated under Johnson and Nixon, which resulted in riots. The feminist movement and the civil rights movement expanded. Ronald Raegan was elected as president and presided over demise of Soviet Union. Under presidents Raegan and Clinton, industries downsized and were made more efficient. There were terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Important People and Works
- Ernest Hemmingway – challenge to write the “Great American Novel”
- William Faulkner – inspired novelists to use regional specify
- Philip Roth – novelist who was skeptical that novels were dependent on stable assumptions about character, plot development, and symbolism
- Allen Ginsberg – wrote Howl which symbolized poetry’s break with modernist form
- Robert Lowell – wrote life studies which symbolized poetry’s break with modernist form
- John F. Kennedy – president; challenged the prosperous to provide for the underprivileged.
- Lyndon Johnson – realized Kennedy’s civil and voting rights proposals as part of his “Great Society”