Gilded Age

Culture vs. Society in the Gilded Age

Alan Trachtenberg
The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age

About equal parts polemic and accessible undergraduate summary of the Gilded Age. Trachtenberg begins with Charles Francis Adams Jr.’s observation that “We have no word to express government by monied corporations.” (3) His claim is that the “deepest changes” and the “deepest resistances” to “these decades of swift and thorough industrialization and urbanization lay at the level of culture, difficult for contemporaries to recognize, and baffling for historians.” (7) The book is organized thematically, as a “dialectic between mind and world, culture and society.” (8) Like other “cultural” books on my reading list (
The Country and the City, Virgin Land, The Machine in the Garden), Trachtenberg’s account left me wondering exactly who he was talking about. Along the way he mentions a wide variety of titles that are probably some of the key windows into the contemporary culture. I found myself wanting to know just how popular they were. Who read these books, and what other books were they reading at the same time (or instead of these)?

Texts to check out:

Ragged Dick, 1867
Emerson, “
The American Scholar,” 1867
Roughing It, 1871
The Mission of the North American People, 1873
Progress and Poverty, 1883
American Nervousness, 1884
Looking Backward, 1888
The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century, 1899
The Winning of the West, 1889
Billy Budd, 1891
Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier” 1893
Wyckoff, The Workers: An Experiment in Reality: The West, 1899
The Virginian, 1902
Principles of Scientific Management, 1911

So I thought it might be a good idea at some point to find a list of American bestsellers, by year, for the entire nineteenth century -- if such a thing exists. I was also reminded -- I’m not completely sure why -- to look again at the Arts and Crafts movement, as a cultural response to this modernity, back towards an older (or forward towards a new) simpler agrarianism. Should probably look at Lovett again sometime soon.