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The strange history of the decade: modernity, nostalgia, and the perils of periodization.

At the root of all historical inquiry is time. "In truth," Fernand Braudel once observed, "the historian can never get away from the question of time in history: time sticks to his thinking like soil to a gardener's spade."(1) The omnipresent character of time, though, does not necessarily dictate confusion for those who would consider aspects of its story. Generally speaking, humans have characterized time as being linear (flying like an arrow shot from a bow) or cyclical (the repeating patterns of the seasons, for instance) in its flow.(2) The decade, however, does not fit easily into either of these broad characterizations. Rather, the concept of the decade represents thinking about time in a punctuated, discontinuous manner. Discontinuous time encourages viewing history not as a seamless web of events, but as discrete, temporally fragmented snapshots. Of course, to the extent that the decade is representative of the practice of periodizing history, it is hardly novel. After all, periodization has its own long history - for example, Kant saw his time as an "Enlightened" new age, Tocqueville wrote of a divide in his world between an age of aristocracy and one of democracy, and late nineteenth and early twentieth century sociologists conceived of society undergoing a transition from traditional, personal relationships to modern, faceless organizations. Unlike these conventional sorts of periodizations, however, the decade represents a different strain of discontinuous time, one that has been neglected by historians.(3)

Historians, to be sure, have generated a rich literature on conceptions of time in American culture, but this body of work has focused on the compression of daily time that took place during industrialization, ignoring units of periodized time.(4) While this approach has taught us much about understanding the different ways in which work and leisure time have been organized, it has slighted the ways in which longer-term notions of time have themselves changed and developed. As a result, many journalists, cultural critics, and historians have been left perplexed when it comes to reckoning with distinct periods, with one scribe recently moved to wonder, "What's in a decade, anyway? And how is it that this arbitrary and slim crosscutting of time, a mere ten years, has grown and flourished to the point that we all walk around in a self-conscious haze about what a new decade represents even before the previous one has tolled its last?"(5)

Unlike experience-oriented chronological markers, such as wars, famines, dynasties, depressions, and the Renaissance, to name but several, the decade - much like the century - is a decimal-oriented chronological marker that is said to possess distinctive cultural characteristics, a category that is often legitimized simply because the calendar year ends in a zero. This is an important distinction, and one worth emphasizing. Years ago, Marc Bloch called attention to the "insidious" and irrational practice of treating history as a progression of centuries, noting "we appear to assign an arbitrarily chosen and strictly pendulum-like rhythm to realities to which such regularity is entirely alien. It is an impossible task." Furthermore, Bloch forthrightly,conceded, "Naturally, we do very badly at it. We must look for something better."(6) Of course, as Bloch himself acknowledged, centuries, despite their irrationality, have a certain appeal for the historian struggling to make sense of the past. "[T]hese faces in arithmetical masks haunt the pages of our books," wrote Bloch. "Which of us," he asked, "will boast of having never fallen prey to the lures of their apparent convenience?"(7) The decade has a similar lure, one that perhaps is easier to discern as we approach another decimal-oriented chronological marker, the millennium.

Typically, the decade is used as an intellectual shorthand, to indicate a fundamental change occurring within a relatively short span of time. Crucially, however, this change is never permanent. The decade is swift to wax and wane, as further change is always but a few years away. As Warren Susman once keenly observed, this is "a special and perhaps characteristically American way of seeing the past: as a series of decades that fit neatly into limits imposed by man-made calendars." This method of periodization has its consequences, though. "The Nineties, the Twenties, the Thirties," wrote Susman, all of this forces attention on special 'events' that are without doubt important but may not be so totally awesome as they might seem in the world of politics, for example. They force an emphasis on discontinuity rather than on continuity, on short-range developments rather than longer trends. There appears no room in American scholarship for Fernand Braudel's vision of extended time - there is none in the overwhelming bulk of American scholarship; but is there in any American experience? We hardly ever ask the question.

Susman concluded, "We merrily tick off decades, give them tricky names, and assume that that is what history is all about."(8)

With the decade-as-history, time itself thus becomes a fashion, its rhythmic fluctuations paralleling those of other trends in society. The decade, like the automobile, the television, or the computer, will eventually be traded in for a new model.(9) The "American obsession with authenticity" has been brought to bear on this category of time, as cultural critics, among others, hurry to authenticate a fad or a particular text by linking it to the chronological unit of the decade.(10) Film critics, for example, are continually designating motion pictures the "movie of the decade."(11) Various trends are said to epitomize an entire decade - witness the "superficial, high-spending 80s" that one writer contrasted with the "reflective, austere 90s."(12) And of course, scholars have made much of the apparent contrast in American history between the "prosperity decade" of the 1920s and the "depression decade" of the 1930s.(13) One observer recently speculated on the evolution of this practice of decadal periodization, given its prevalence in today's popular discourse, commenting, "Surely plague-ridden Europe was spared the indignity of town criers bellowing, 'Welcome to the Bubonic 1340s,'" and, "Students of ancient Rome have yet to uncover a text reading anything like 'Welcome to the Visigothic 410s.'"(14) This paper operates under the assumption that Susman was correct; there is something particularly American - and modern - about the odd use of the decade as the unit of historic time.

The history of this practice becomes more intelligible, however, if the development of the idea of the decade in American history and culture is located as part of a broader story about the changing nature of time during the close of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth. An examination of several trends that converged during these years - most notably, the development of generational thinking, a widely shared sense that time itself was speeding up, and a growing preoccupation with the "new" in American culture - reveals a considerably more complete picture of the strange history of the decade. To view these characteristics in their proper context, however, it is crucial first to understand how the relationship between time and American society developed in the nineteenth century, and how this relationship then radically metamorphosed during the fin de siecle.

A Brief History of Time

When studying the topic of time, a subject with such a potentially vast scope, it is essential to employ metaphors as a heuristic device. For example, when scientists speak of geological "deep time," they offer a "geological mile" (with the length of the Earth's history equal to one mile, and human history equal only to the mile's last few inches), better to describe this abstract concept. Indeed, as Stephen Jay Gould comments, "Deep time is so alien that we can really only comprehend it as metaphor."(15) While linear and cyclical time are somewhat oversimplified ideal types that tend to obscure complexity, they do demarcate a useful spectrum for representing the history of time in Western thought. At one end of this continuum lies linear time. Often likened to an arrow, linear time travels from the mists of the past straight into the fog of the future. The opposite of time's arrow is time's circle. Events that repeat over a fixed period, such as sunrise, sunset, and the passing of the seasons, are all examples of cyclical time. Likewise, millennial movements, with their inevitable day of judgment and ensuing epiphany, are classic illustrations of cyclical time.(16)

The inherent tension between linear and cyclical notions of time parallels the contested nature of time throughout the course of American history. Generally, this tension manifested itself as the United States industrialized and urbanized. In the years before the Civil War, reports one student of the history of time, Americans experienced a "small crisis in the authority of time" as they began to question actively the relationship between time and society.(17) In the early national period, time was defined locally and personally, in keeping with the sunrise and sunset. Few people owned a clock, and no one perceived a need for nationwide "time zones," or contemplated such schemes as "springing forward" or "falling back" in a coordinated fashion to "save" daylight. But as the United States began shifting from a society founded on agriculture to one that relied increasingly upon industry, people found themselves depending less on the position of the sun in the sky for the time, and more on the watches that they now carried and the clocks that now sat inside their homes.(18)

Along with the turn toward mechanized time keeping, the national trauma of the Civil War should not be underestimated as an event that, for many people, unsettled their perception of time. While the growth of "clock time" changed the way time was perceived on a daily basis, the Civil War, on the other hand, changed longer-term perceptions of time. In 1869, Harvard historian George Ticknor summed up the role the Civil War played in the creation of longer periods, stating that it had left "a great gulf between what happened before in our century and what has happened since, or what is likely to happen hereafter." Ticknor's conclusion, "It does not seem to me as if I were living in the country in which I was born," articulated a widely shared belief that the Civil War marked the end of an era. Northern intellectuals such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Francis Adams, and William James found that "the national consciousness," as James put it, emerged from the war with "a different tone from the tone it found" before the war. Mark Twain, writing in the late 1860s, echoed this assessment when he stated that the preceding years constituted a separate historical moment "before History was born - before Tradition had being."(19)

If the antebellum years qualified as the period before "tradition had being," the post-war era certainly did not lack for what Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger have termed the "invention of tradition."(20) A well-known instance of this activity was noted by C. Vann Woodward, when he observed that "One of the most significant inventions of the New South was the 'Old South' - a new idea in the eighties, and a legend of incalculable potentialities."(21) This new sort of periodization reflected a more coherent sense of collective memory; as Michael Kammen has characterized it, it revealed a change from "a sense of the past achieved almost by inadvertence (prior to 1870) to an age of memory and ancestor worship by design and by desire (1870 to 1915)."(22)

During the post-Civil War years, with the railroad and telegraph compressing incredible amounts of space, the need for a regulated, universally employed, standardized daily time grew correspondingly more critical. A group of railroad managers addressed this need on November 18, 1883, when they adopted a system of standard time zones that still remains in place, essentially unchanged, today. In one sense, the introduction of standardized time was a response to these transformations in industry and transportation, transformations that radically altered Americans' understanding of time and distance. The creation of standardized time can be thought of as one part of a broader search for order in an increasingly confusing world. In another, more immediate sense, however, standardized time began to reshape everyday behavior away from the workplace. Standardized time was both a response to changing conditions in the public world and an agent of change in the realm of private relationships.(23)

Time Speeds Up: Modernity and the Fin de Siecle

Arguments over time and its meaning took new forms as the United States moved towards its fin de siecle. By the start of the 1890s, time itself was perceived by many to be accelerating. While this change in time's pace was one that was felt widely, it is difficult (and foolish) to attempt to assign it one particular meaning. Indeed, while almost everyone acknowledged that life's pace was now moving at a terrific velocity, there were contentious differences over what this new speed meant.(24) To take but one example, on the one hand factory workers found that the swiftness of time meant that their work day was increasingly regimented, as mechanical time clocks divided each hour into one hundred segments - all the better to increase their productivity. On the other hand, for factory owners, time's celerity brought the promise of progress as new technologies sped their products to market, increasing profits and wealth.(25) In a 1965 essay on American culture during the fin de siecle, John Higham proposed that this conflict over time's speed be thought of as "a profound spiritual reaction" to the need to "conform to the discipline of machinery."(26) While subsequent scholarship has added a great degree of complexity to this picture - most importantly, demonstrating that this "conformity" was not easily achieved(27) - Higham's analysis remains important for the way in which he linked these cultural developments to broader social and political trends. As he put it, "the dynamism that characterized the whole political and social scene from the turn of the century through World War I emerged during the 1890s in large areas of popular culture."(28)

This dynamism manifested itself in many ways, most notably in technological breakthroughs (the x-ray, motion pictures, wireless telegraph, telephone, bicycle, automobile, and airplane) and in developments in the arts (the new narrative style of the stream-of-consciousness novel, Cubism, psychoanalysis, and relativity). The concept of relativity not only played an increasingly important role in the sciences, it was also present at the creation of an American sense of historicism.(29) Similarly, the discipline of sociology grew in response to the rapid pace of events, in an effort to comprehend "the direction of change," itself.(30) Different and new ways of experiencing the flow of time were crucial to these innovations in the arts and sciences.(31) With the growing popularity of the cinema, one critic even ventured to state that "events have been taught to record themselves, so that Time seems to merge into Eternity. Yesterday is abolished!"(32)

Of course, while this statement is freighted with exaggeration, it indicates nicely the extent of modernity's truly dramatic impact during the last years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth.(33) By the 1920s, it was clear that time's new speed was here to stay. Writing in the trade journal Advertising and Selling, ad man Robert Updegraff located the impact of time's acceleration in the "new American tempo" of the 1920s - a tempo that possessed the violent "turbulence of shallow water."(34) This turbulence permeated and disturbed much of the intellectual and social environment of the day. As one historian has since observed, "On the surface there was agreement: Taylorism and Futurism, the new technology, the new music, and the cinema had set the world rushing."(35) There was another side to this new speed, however. While yesterday had been abolished for some people, it is hardly a coincidence that these years also saw the growth of a nostalgia for a simpler, less frantic age. Indeed, during this time the word "nostalgia" was itself redefined. Its medical definition, a "condition of acute homesickness," with recognizable physical symptoms, was replaced with a more general meaning of "longing for the past."(36) This latter strain of nostalgia, along with the acceleration in time, figured prominently in the construction of the decade as a unit of historic time.(37) The tremendous growth of a culture of "simultaneity" likewise fueled the rise of periodizing history by decades, as an ever-increasing sense of confusion and chaos wrought by the currents of modernity led not only to an increased need to understand the present, but also to a need to create historical narratives within which the present could be emplotted.(38)

Nostalgia, generational thinking, time's acceleration, simultaneity - these features of the broader cultural landscape did not emerge full- blown, like Athena from Zeus's head. While they were indeed notable aspects of the Zeitgeist during the years following the First World War, it should be emphasized that their development is due to rather more gradual trends. These notions, however, played into the inclination of the cohort born in the 1880s and 1890s to correlate their life histories with the history of the twentieth century itself. For this cohort, the formative experience of the Great War spurred this process of identification, reinforcing an inclination to confuse personal and world history.(39) This predilection, rooted in both linear and cyclical conceptions of time, was central to the idea of the decade created by Frederick Lewis Allen and others in the early 1930s. Earlier than this, however, it informed the thinking of intellectuals and cultural critics.(40)

Walter Lippmann, for example, in a 1919 lecture entitled "Journalism and the Higher Law," expressed his concern over the relationship between government and the public in generational terms. He noted, for example, "In a few generations it will seem ludicrous to historians that ... their political scientists went on year after year writing and lecturing about government without producing one, one single, significant study of the process of public opinion ... "(41) For Lippmann, the history of America fast became the history of his generation. By the mid-1920s, if not before, Lippmann's understanding of the generation was intimately tied to a belief in progress. In a lecture on fundamentalism in American life Lippmann concluded that "All we can do in this generation is to begin to understand what it is that we need to understand more clearly .... We are just emerging from a naive and mystical conception of democracy" and beginning to grapple with a more tough-minded conception of modern politics. Lippmann saw a transition taking place, with the nation proceeding "inexorably ... until at last the whole community is uprooted and modernized."(42) Or, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously put it in accepting the 1936 Democratic presidential nomination, Lippmann, Roosevelt, and their generation had a "rendezvous with destiny." In his influential book, A Preface to Morals, Lippmann recognized another vital element in the culture of his world. In a section with a title that could have been written today, "The Invention of Invention," he argued that "One of the characteristics of the age we live in is that we are forever trying to explain it." Lippmann declared that the current scene demonstrated that "There is something radically new in the modern world, something for which there is no parallel in any other civilization."(43)

This relationship between the "newness" of modernity, individual history, the history of the twentieth century, and the tendency to think of time in generational cycles was by no means limited to public intellectuals such as Lippmann. Professional historians of the day were also implicated in all of this, as can be seen in the work of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. Schlesinger originated the reform-and-reaction approach in American historiography, popularizing this cyclical notion in his 1922 book, New Viewpoints in American History. In his chapter, "Radicalism and Conservatism in American History," Schlesinger presented the entire sweep of U.S. history, seen through the prism of politics, as a succession of generations. Of the 1920s, he writes, "A leadership representative of the new day seemed slow in making its appearance, and the presidential campaign of 1920 showed the country in a condition of drift awaiting the coming of new pilots. Future events alone can supply the confirmatory evidence to show whether, as at present seems likely, we are today standing on the threshold of the eighth generation of American statesmanship."(44) But who would take charge? For Schlesinger, the answer was

easy, for "The division between the progressives and conservatives within each party may be likened to a seesaw, one end being up at one time and the other at another; and when one end of the Republican seesaw is high, a train of influences is set in motion which usually causes the opposite end of the Democratic seesaw to rise, and vice versa. i hasty review of past elections will demonstrate the truth of this statement."(45)

Schlesinger's cycles may or may not be useful to present-day historians, but, whether helpful or not, they anticipated the development of a sense of longer-term time as a series of discrete periods, lending credence to viewing history as a succession of punctuated segments of time. Instead of a decisive, one-time break with the past, this conception of time implied a view of history as a continuous string of "new" eras. Indeed, the hefty - and enormously popular - social science survey Recent Social Trends reflects this interpretation of history. Recent Social Trends portrayed change as ongoing and recent in its origins, with President Hoover's Committee reporting that their investigation

does not exaggerate the bewildering confusion of problems; it has merely uncovered the situation as it is. Modern life is everywhere complicated, but especially so in the United States, where immigration from many lands, rapid mobility within the country itself, the lack of established classes or castes to act as a brake on social changes, the tendency to seize upon new types of machines, rich natural resources and vast driving power, have hurried us dizzily away from the days of the frontier into a whirl of modernisms which almost passes belief.(46)

Ultimately, as we shall see, what emerged from all of this was the idea of the decade that has become almost a cliche in American culture today. To see this process in action, it is worthwhile to turn to an examination of the influence of one particular decade, the 1920s, in the strange history of the decade itself. While it is certainly possible to make a case for other decades - most notably, the 1890s - as worth studying in order to comprehend the rise of this unit of periodization, the 1920s are more relevant in this context, not because it was the "first" decade, but rather because it was the first decade truly to legitimate a ten-year span of time as a historic category.(47) But who legitimized the twenties? As Henry May once observed, the history of the 1920s has been written not by historians, but largely by "journalists, literary critics, and social scientists."(48) Although a number of historians have subsequently attempted to address this imbalance, May's point remains a valid one. Indeed, two of the most important and popular "legitimizers" of the decade of the 1920s were Walter Lippmann and Frederick Lewis Allen.

Generational Thinking, "New" Time, and the Decade: The Case of the Nineteen Twenties

"It is now two years since hard times reached this country, and .... In all the vast confusion which has resulted one thing at least is certain - the world, when the readjustments are made, can not and will not be organized as it was two years ago. The post-war era of the Nineteen Twenties is over and done."(49) In these words, in his very first "Today and Tomorrow" column for the New York Herald Tribune, journalist Walter Lippmann expressed a commonly held view of the 1920s. It was a distinct period of time, bounded on one side by a war to make the world safe for democracy, and on the other by a worldwide depression that threatened to do just the opposite. At this point already well-known among the circle of opinion makers, Lippmann was a wide-ranging intellect who had studied with George Santayana and William James at Harvard, helped to start The New Republic after finishing his bachelor's degree, and later assisted in drafting Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points." His incisive critiques of the state of the nation finally brought him to wide public attention in the early thirties. Simply put, he was a tremendous success. As Arthur Krock noted sarcastically in the pages of Vogue, "To read, if not to comprehend, Lippmann was suddenly the thing to do." Lippmann's opinion, and Lippmann himself, rapidly became a topic of public discourse. The New Yorker and other magazines even featured cartoons about the popular journalist whom almost everyone seemed to be reading, as Lippmann turned out four columns every week.(50)

Lippmann's newspaper columns provide a useful entry point with which to open a discussion of the 1920s and the category of the decade. Indeed, there is little question that Lippmann always took an acute interest in chronicling the events of his time. Less well known, however, is the extent of his engagement with the very nature of time itself. In his early work, Public Opinion, Lippmann demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of temporal nuances, observing that "A presumption about time enters widely into our opinions. To one person an institution which has existed for the whole of his conscious life is part of the permanent furniture of the universe: to another it is ephemeral." Lippmann continued, noting, for example, that "Geological time is very different from biological time. Social time is most complex .... A true scale of values has a very acute sense of relative time." Lippmann was quick to discern that "popular history is a happy hunting ground of time confusions."(51)

Lippmann's "Today and Tomorrow" columns of the early thirties reflect this long-standing interest with time, as he ranged widely from the issues of foreign war debts and international economics to concerns about public morals and corruption in New York. Regardless of topic, three broad motifs that are relevant here characterize Lippmann's writings: a sense of generational self-awareness, a recognition of a mood of disillusionment present during the post-war years, and an acute perception of the New. Indeed, many of Lippmann's columns pivoted on a conviction that the 1920s were a period defined by its very falseness. Mocking ineffective government officials, over two years after the stock market crash of 1929 he cracked, "It is evident that officeholders have been the last great group of people to realize that the New Era is over."(52) He advised his readers that "No good whatever can come from acting as if the abnormal monetary structure of the war and post-war era were sacred. The structure has collapsed in all its essential parts, and the few tottering remnants of it which remain are useless and dangerous."(53) Some two weeks after this column, Lippmann underscored this point and noted the profound nature of the divide between the depression of the thirties and the prosperity of the twenties, declaring "we shall not return to the highly artificial and utterly unstable economic arrangements of the post-war era which have now collapsed."(54)

Only the day before this column was published, Lippmann had issued his predictions for the Congress as it was convening in late 1931 on Capitol Hill for the first time since the 1930 elections. Lippmann sensed the historic import of this moment, for he felt that

For ten years the American people have been sunk first in the political lethargy of war-weariness and then in the stupor of the great inflation. They are coming out of it. There has been more thought and more feeling about public affairs in the last year than in the ten which preceded it. There is, too, a new generation at the threshold of authority, the generation which survived the war and the post-war era, and they have no emotional commitments to that past.(55)

In this column it is important to note that Lippmann was using the term "generation" in a cultural, rather than biological, sense. In adopting this formulation, Lippmann anticipated the concept of the cohort developed by social scientists after World War II.(56) Previously, generations were limited in scope, a term commonly reserved for small-yet-influential groups of intellectuals: the Russian intelligentsia, the late romantic poets, or the Revolutionary generation of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.(57) The sense of a shared, mass experience, however, shaped in part by events such as the Great War, was critical in creating a new, modern definition of the generation. Indeed, as Raymond Williams has noted, "one of the difficulties of [employing the term] generation in this strengthened modern sense is that in a period of rapid change the period involved is likely to shorten, and to fall well below the period of biological generation."(58) This new definition of the generation was crucial to the construction of the 1920s - the generation as a duration of time had been replaced by the generation as a category of culturally shared experience.(59)

The "political lethargy" of the 1920s that so annoyed Lippmann reflects another notable aspect of his writing for the New York Tribune. He often railed against the immorality of the twenties, attacking its causes: "War itself," "inflation," "false values," and "frantic greed." This immorality was also partially the fault of the American public, since "a vigorous people which is properly led does not become the passive victim of conditions; it resists them and overcomes them." Ultimately, for Lippmann, though, "the American people in the post-war era have been so much the victims of post-war conditions because from the highest places they have been set such bad examples."(60) Little changed in Lippmann's thinking by the start of 1932. In April of that year, just after a bleak meeting with President Hoover, Lippmann wrote one of his most pessimistic columns. In it, he traduced the "dark foreboding" and "despairing impotence" that the depression had brought to the American character. Fundamentally, for Lippmann, the crisis of the day was a moral and ethical dilemma rooted in political and social relations. Taking the decade as his unit of historic time, Lippmann noted "if you teach a people for ten years that the character of its government is not greatly important, that political success is for those who equivocate and evade, and if you tell them that acquisitiveness is the ideal, that things are what matter, that Mammon is God, then you must not be astonished at the confusion in Washington." "You cannot set up false gods to confuse the people," concluded Lippmann, "and not pay the penalty."(61)

In addition to his focus on the falseness of the 1920s, Lippmann made much of the notion of disillusionment in his newspaper writing, expanding on a central pillar of his earlier book A Preface to Morals.(62) This unifying thread ran throughout Lippmann's writing in 1932, with Lippmann at one point observing that "There has been a vast disillusionment not only with the existing order but with its idealism over liberty, democracy, nationalism, and progress. One could go on endlessly, for here is endless material, pointing out the variety and the extent to which there have broken down, or been overthrown, or rejected, the things which the pre-war generations held to be most precious or most certain."(63) While an important theme of Lippmann's writing, disillusionment was by no means his trademarked property. In fact, disillusionment also served as the intellectual underpinning to Frederick Lewis Allen's 1931 retrospective, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties.

Allen's breezy, popular study of the 1920s - it is still in print, having sold over 500,000 copies - is, without doubt, the most influential text in propagating the idea of the decade in American culture.(64) In his own portrait of the age, The Perils of Prosperity, William E. Leuchtenburg asserted that "Every account of [the 1920s] begins with Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday."(65) The New York Times went so far as to crown Allen "the Herodotus of the Jazz Age."(66) By any measure, Only Yesterday is an ideal document with which to explore the concept of the 1920s that was born in the depression years.

Briefly, Allen's narrative was primarily a chronicle of what subsequent scholars would call "mass" or "popular" culture. Flappers, the new woman, college youth, drinking, movies, radio, jazz, Mah Jong, baseball, ballyhoo, and crossword puzzles took center stage in Allen's book. His "decade" revolved around a transformation in the American mind or character, as it moved from naive "idealism" to cynical "disillusionment." Allen's construction of the public mind was an extremely limited one, however, taking Eastern, middle-to-upper class, white, urban/suburban males as a sample that was typical of the "post-war era." As one recent critic has observed, "For those unacquainted with the details of Sinclair Lewis's upbringing, or without access to the waterside pleasure pavilions of the summering rich, Allen's book must have seemed like a report from a distant country."(67) Nearly as unstudied as his notion of the public mind was Allen's employment of disillusionment as a thematic device. In an aside to his readers, Allen explained his intentions, noting that "The word disillusionment has been frequently employed in this history, for in a sense disillusionment (except about business and the physical luxuries and improvements which business would bring) was the keynote of the nineteen-twenties."(68) Disillusionment and this truncated American "mind," then, inform Allen's narrative - a story that he likens to "a pattern which at least masquerades as history."(69)

This pattern was predicated on the catastrophic nature of the Great War and the depression. Having erected these boundaries at the outset of his narrative, Allen used the striking nature of these events to reduce what occurred between them to - as Steven Biel so aptly put it in his excellent article on Allen - a succession of "dramatic collective mood swings."(70) Allen is explicit in his intentions, stating that he is setting out "to tell, and in some measure to interpret, the story of what in the future may be considered a distinct era in American history: the eleven years between the end of the war ... and the stock-market panic." In Allen's story, though, eleven years equal a decade. Allen employed the decade as a device to organize and to describe culturally shared events, rather than treating it as an arbitrarily strict unit of historic time. The September 16, 1922 slaying of New Jersey Reverend Edward Wheeler Hall and his choir leader, Mrs. Eleanor R. Mills, rated a notice - thanks to the media coverage it received - as Allen's "murder of the decade." Following his triumphant solo crossing of the Atlantic and subsequent idolization by the press and public, pilot Charles Lindbergh became Allen's "hero of the decade." On the basis of his own personal experience in attending dinner parties, Allen even speculated that "Some day, perhaps, the ten years which followed the war may aptly be known as the Decade of Bad Manners," and continued to note that "if the decade was ill-mannered, it was also unhappy."(71)

While this cultural idea of the decade is clearly useful in writing a whimsical bit of best-selling history, it has its limitations. Ultimately, as David Kennedy has observed, Allen "contributed to an artificial chronological isolation of the decade that has proved perversely persistent. Like a magus summoning Excalibur from the depths, Allen commanded the 1920s to arise unanchored and unbridged out of the lake of time."(72) Indeed, from today's perspective the most striking characteristic of Only Yesterday is its excessively truncated historical perspective. For Allen, the Great War was so "great" that it could be cited as a primary cause of a "revolution in manners and morals," the "revolt of the highbrows," and the "ballyhoo" of mass advertising.(73) Allen's treatment of causation allowed him to conclude his opus, certain that "the United States of 1931 was a different place from the United States of the Post-war Decade; there was no denying that. An older order was giving place to new .... What was to come in the nineteen-thirties? Only one thing could one be sure of. It would not be repetition. The stream of time often doubles on its course, but always it makes for itself a new channel."(74)

This pat conclusion allowed Allen and his readers to maintain a belief in progress, despite the hard times of the day. As one critic has noted, thanks to Allen's presentation, "a decade of progress and idealism would surely follow a decade of reaction and disillusionment." With Allen's cyclical view of time, neatly underpinned by his view of events (women's hemlines and the stock market traveled up and down in tandem), it was logical for him finally to propose, in essence, "that a national reawakening was underway and that history was on the side of the present."(75) This notion was central to how Only Yesterday was marketed. In the Book-of-the-Month club newsletter, Only Yesterday was presented as a key to understanding the new decade of the thirties, providing order in a time of economic chaos:

Those events, those styles in dresses and hair, those headlines in the newspapers, those fads and fancies and moods and happenings, that made up so jumbled a hodgepodge as we lived along through them, are revealed now as having a sequence, an inner coherence, a logic and meaning, which we did not dream of. It adds to our mental stature thus to look back into the past not only resuscitated in every detail, but so presented that it is an understandable segment of human experience and history. Readers of this portrait of the last ten years will find in their hands many clues to a better comprehension of the next ten.(76)

Following its selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, Only Yesterday was further subjected to the mass advertising and marketing of culture that Allen himself described with such flair. His publisher, Harper's, produced "The Only Yesterday Game based on Frederick Lewis Allen's famous history of the 1920s with the same title." This game was "a new, a fascinating game for the harassed hostesses, for 'Ask Me Another' fans, for everyone who reads his daily paper and thinks he knows what's going on around him." It contained "100 questions about the decade just past." While there were some simple questions, the advertisement for the game stressed that most questions would prove "difficult for those who are not experts in nineteen-twentiana." Only Yesterday completed its journey on the merry-go-round of ballyhoo by providing the basis of Universal Studio's movie, "Only Yesterday." Interestingly, the ad copy referred to Allen's history as a "novel," and a reviewer trumpeted the movie as "a lachrymose story of a little Southern girl who fell in love with a handsome soldier and then, when he returned from France, discovered that he didn't even remember her."(77)

The hype surrounding Only Yesterday, then, in addition to the actual content of the text, did much to propagate explicitly the idea of the 1920s as a distinct historic era, somehow worthy of specific analysis. Implicitly, however, Only Yesterday advanced the notion that any ten-year span of time constituted a coherent historic period. Allen, while certainly the most important figure in constructing this idea, was not without assistance in this endeavor. Lippmann's writings, especially his A Preface to Morals, Joseph Wood Krutch's The Modern Temper, and Robert and Helen Lynd's Middletown all informed Allen's approach to American society and culture, and he graciously acknowledged all of these works in his "Appendix on Sources."(78) Allen relied on Krutch and, as mentioned above, Lippmann, for his understanding of "disillusionment" in American life.

Allen, however, did not borrow what Krutch himself would later describe as the "hopeless" dilemma he presented in The Modern Temper.(79) A damning, existentialist portrait of "scientific" modes of thought in modern America, Krutch's book was "at once a study and a confession - a study of the various tendencies in contemporary thought and a confession of the mood which submission to these tendencies has engendered."(80) Science, for Krutch, had rendered God irrelevant, leaving man adrift without a reliable guide to difficult moral questions. Allen, however, ignored this depressing critique and instead used Krutch's harrowing essay to flesh out his whimsical chapter on the "Revolt of the Highbrows."

Allen appropriated the Lynds's Middletown in a similar, partial, manner. The Lynds's study of Muncie, Indiana, conducted between 1924 and 1925 and published in 1929, was employed by Allen in a rather impressionistic fashion. This classic work of sociology looked at the social organization of what was portrayed to be a typical middle-American town via six categories of change: "Getting a living," "Making a home," "Training the young," "Using leisure," "Engaging in religious practices," and "Engaging in community activities."(81) The wealth of data amassed by the Lynds was used by Allen, to take but one example, to support his argument that the 1920s constituted a "revolution in manners and morals." As David Kennedy has charged, this shaky argument was really "a concept that [Allen] almost single-handedly planted in the popular as well as the scholarly literature about the 1920s."(82) Indeed, solid historical studies such as Paula Fass's The Damned and the Beautiful and Lynn Dumenil's The Modern Temper can be read as implicit reactions against Allen's poorly documented "revolution in morals," serving to demarcate the difference between myth and history.(83)

The difficulties involved in formulating a sharp break between the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century are pointed out by the Lynds's subsequent study of Muncie in 1935, Middletown in Transition. Upon returning to Muncie the Lynds were shocked by reactions of many residents to the tremendous social change brought by the depression. "The prosperity of the fat years," the Lynds wrote, "while sharpening the disappointments of the depression, also remains today in Middletown in the form of enhanced personal goals and glimpsed new psychological standards of living for many of its citizens.(84) The persistent continuity of what Allen called the "values of the twenties" fascinated and offended the Lynds, and may reveal a difference in how elites (the Lynds, in this case) experience temporal change, vis-a-vis non-elites (here, the residents of Middletown). The residents of Middletown, in the Lynds's later study, seem rooted in a less discontinuous sense of time - they saw relentless continuity where the Lynds wanted to find drastic change. The Lynds noted, "The fact that Middletown does not regard the depression in any sense 'its own fault,' or even the fault of the economy by which it lives, makes it easy for the city to think of the confusion following 1929 as 'just a bad bump in the road.'" By 1935, "Middletown was in effect saying, albeit soberly and decidedly anxiously: 'It's all over thank God! And now we'll get after all those things we were planning for ourselves in 1928-1929!'"(85) The residents of Middletown were the ideal audience for Allen's reassuring history of the 1920s, as Allen's cyclical view of time and the decade could coexist happily with the persistence of individualistic values on the part of the Middletowners. Although this notion of different classes periodizing time in different ways merits a far more thorough investigation than I am able to offer here, it is worth speculating that this phenomenon can help to explain why the economic turbulence of the depression did not create a working-class revolution in the United States.(86)

While Lippmann and Allen were by no means the alpha and omega of popular discourse during these years, they both played important roles in legitimizing the 1920s as a historical period. With the notion of the decade firmly in place, this temporal category was now available for subsequent commentators and historians to employ in describing succeeding decades. The implications of this category of periodization, however, have often remained unclear.

The Strange History of the Decade: Periodization and its Implications

The idea of the decade that has persisted in American culture since the 1920s was created by individuals who, regardless of their differences, were concerned with time, change, and history. Indeed, in 1927, these concerns were widely shared, as demonstrated by H. H. Hemming and Doris Hemming's "Translator's Introduction" to Andre Siegfried's America Comes of Age. "It is doubtful," the Hemmings speculated, "if any generation has been so absorbed with its own history as are the people of today," for "Never in a single decade were our ancestors confronted with events so momentous, intriguing, and replete with sudden changes as those brought about by the World War. Modern men and women are still interested in the history of the past, but they read it in the hope of finding in it the secret of the present, and even of the future."(87) Siegfried, in his best-selling volume - it went through sixteen printings in a mere two years - scrutinized American politics and society, finding that Americans "are now creating on a vast scale an entirely original structure which bears only a superficial resemblance to the European."(88) Whether this structure was truly, in fact, entirely original or not, is beside the point. A rising sense of generational self-awareness, the perceived acceleration of time, a sense of the new, combined with a growing identification between the forces of youth culture and the phenomenon of cultural rebirth, replaced the linear, progressive conception of time that had dominated the thinking of much of the nineteenth century.

The persistence of the decade stems from two factors. First, the conceptions of time present during the 1920s were particularly important in laying the intellectual and cultural foundations for the idea of the decade. Commentators and critics came to equate their personal lives with the existence and history of the twentieth century, linear and cyclical notions of time combined with a perception that time itself was "moving at a new tempo," and the idea that time could be viewed as "punctuated," or "discontinuous," became widespread. Second, the severe economic crisis of the depression, while exacerbating the already-disorienting and confusing order of modern life, caused people to look with nostalgia back to the time before the stock market crash. As Henry May observed, "With the depression, the twenties shot into the past with extraordinary suddenness."(89) The "decade" of the 1920s facilitated this yearning for yesterday.(90) Nostalgia's role in driving cultural cycles, in conjunction with a media industry that would have been inconceivable before World War I, has only grown during subsequent years, continuing to lend credence to periodizing in ten-year segments.(91) Examination of the development of the idea of the decade of the 1920s, and of the intellectual and cultural patterns of longer-term units of time present in the years before the 1929 stock market crash, allows for a better understanding of the strange history of the decade. Finally, however, this understanding can aid in comprehending the concept of the decade that has taken hold in today's culture, and its implications for historical inquiry.

Today, a popular San Francisco radio station's slogan is "Modern rock: the rock of the nineties." A journalist claims that "The Nineties, which began in the Eighties, feel nearly over. And it's only 1992."(92) The press routinely publishes "decade-in-review" articles, whether they are warranted or not. "Every year that ends in a zero," note two market researchers, "produces a flurry of activity, as pundits and psychics predict trends in everything from politics to fashion."(93) Newsweek even claims that the 1980s ended on October 19, 1987. "Decades are not a function of calendar time," states Newsweek journalist Bill Barol. "They are trends, values and associations, bundled up and tied together in the national memory."(94)

What is one to make of all this, as we await the arrival of the next decade? Clearly, the decade, construed as a category of culturally shared events, rather than as a ten year interval of time, is alive and very well. This former definition is not without merit. Certainly, when used as a shorthand to indicate common experiences, the decade has some utility. In the bleak years of the Great Depression, the idea of the decade of the 1920s entered popular culture and helped provide "evidence" that as time passed, conditions would surely improve. However, as Warren Susman discerned, the decade tends to underwrite the research agenda of cultural historians while pushing other varieties of scholarship - particularly political history and, to a lesser degree, social history - to the margins.(95) The widely documented turn from the new social and political history to the new cultural history appears in a different light when viewed through the lens of periodization.(96) To take one example, one reason that the history of the American Right since World War II has, until recently, escaped the attention of the scholarly mainstream has been the appealing simplicity of periodizing by the decade: 50s normalcy is followed by 60s upheaval, which gives way to 70s self-centeredness and malaise.(97) In this storyline, the far-right drops out of the picture in the 1950s, pops up again in 1964 in the person of Barry Goldwater only to be swept away by Johnson's landslide, and then returns to the scene with the election of Reagan.(98) Periodizing history as ten year segments thus serves only to cloud our understanding of the rise of one of the most important social movements in post-World War II America. For social and political historians, generally, my larger point here is that assuming the existence of a historical period can quickly lead to closely related - and often flawed - assumptions regarding the place of various social groups within this period. In the case of the hidden history of conservatism, with the decade rhythmically punctuating the stow of post-war American history, Bill Graham the rock promoter has appeared more important than Billy Graham the preacher.(99)

If the decade has hindered political and social historians by helping to obscure the ascendance of conservatism, it has also helped to keep labor historians from reckoning with periods of union decline. As Dana Frank's excellent study of post-World War I Seattle has demonstrated, historians must cast aside the notion of the 1920s as the "decade of prosperity" if they want to chronicle accurately the fate of the labor movement during the interwar years.(100) Thomas Sugrue's elegant reconstruction of urban politics in post-1945 Detroit likewise serves to point out the shortcomings of periodizing by decades: adherence to a vision of history that posits that the upheaval of the "sixties" caused the collapse of liberalism misses crucially important fractures within the Democratic coalition that Sugrue argues were present during the "golden age" of New Deal and Fair Deal liberalism.(101) The decade-driven version of post-1945 American history functions all-too-well in supporting the claims of cultural historians, however. Ella Taylor's examination of the portrayal of family life on television, for example, pivots on the succession of decades, each one epitomized by a particular type of representation: the 50s and 60s presented a harmonious consensus in television households; the 70s reflected increased anxiety and instability; the 80s demonstrated a return to strong family values. While it can be argued that the decade-as-history does an adequate job in advancing understanding of the history of representations as employed on television programs - from I Love Lucy to The Flinstones to The Brady Bunch to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Cosby Show - it is clearly less than serviceable in illuminating the subject matter of political, social, or labor history. Indeed, the decade does not readily lend itself to historical subfields such as environmental history, women's history, or diplomatic history, to name but several examples. Similarly, it is difficult to see the applicability or the relevance of the decade to the history of either the Roman Empire or the Shang Dynasty.

Periodizing history via the decade is just one example of a broader tendency in American culture, the process of"disremembering the past while historicizing the present."(102) The decade contributes to an abbreviated historical attention span - cause and effect are confused, and the record of the past is reduced to a "progression of cultural styles."(103) With the age of the decade showing every sign that it will wax before it will wane, however, it is worthwhile to recall the cautionary words of Marc Bloch. As Bloch argued, it is vital to avoid falling prey to the assumption that the passage of time automatically leads to new eras of history. Of course, while no category of periodization is perfect, to echo the plea of one historian, if we are to periodize, "ought we not at least to have meaningful periods?"(104) Whether their focus is politics, culture, society, women, the family, the environment, the history of sexuality, or diplomatic relations, scholars must eschew the convenience - and more importantly, the intellectual limitations - of the decade and define carefully the periodization boundaries of their research projects. Otherwise, if historians refuse to confront the implications of their periodization choices, the strange history of the decade is likely to continue for some time to come.

Department of History Berkeley, CA 94720-2550


I am grateful to David Engerman, David Hollinger, Daniel Scott Smith, Phil Softer, and the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Social History for their thoughtful and perceptive comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

1. Fernand Braudel, "History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Duree" in Fernand Braudel, On History, trans. Sarah Matthews (Chicago, 1980), 47.

2. For more on this distinction, see Barbara Adam, Time and Social Theory (Philadelphia, 1990), 133-38; Michael O'Malley, Keeping Watch: A History of American Time (Washington, D.C., 1990), 12-13; Stephen Jay Gould, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Cambridge, MA, 1987), 10-16; David S. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge, MA, 1983), 15-16; and A.J. Gurevich, "Time as a Problem of Cultural History," in Cultures and Time (Paris, 1976), 229-45.

3. While the decade as a unit of analysis has not received any sustained attention from historians, the subject of periodization has received treatment from a variety of directions. See, for example, Astrid Moller and Nino Luraghi, "Time in the Writing of History: Perceptions and Structures, Storia della Storiografia 28 (1995): 3-15; Norbert Elias, Time: An Essay, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford, 1992); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (Boston, 1986); Peter H. Smith, "Time as a Historical Construct, Historical Methods 17 (fall 1984): 182-91; Landes, Revolution in Time; Samuel L. Macey, Clocks and the Cosmos: Time in Western Life and Thought (Hamden, CT, 1980); John R. Hall, "The Time of History and the History of Times," History and Theory 19 (1980): 113-31; Georg G. Iggers, "Historicism," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas ed. Philip P. Wiener, vol. 2 (New York, 1973), 456-64; Dietrich Gerhard, "Periodization in History," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas ed. Philip P. Wiener, vol. 3 (New York, 1973), 476-81; Gerhard, "Periodization in European History," American Historical Review 61 (July 1956): 900-13; David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York, 1970), 144 - 46; and Carlo Cipolla, Clocks and Culture, 1300-1700 (New York, 1967).

4. This body of work draws its inspiration from E.P. Thompson and Herbert Gutman. See esp. Thompson's seminal essay, "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism," Past and Present 38 (Dec. 1967): 56-79; and Gutman's collection of essays, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America (Oxford, 1977). Important recent examples of this approach include Mark H. Smith, "Old South Time in Comparative Perspective," American Historical Review 101 (Dec. 1996): 1432-69; Martin Bruegel, "'Time That Can Be Relied Upon.' The Evolution of Time Consciousness in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 17901860," Journal of Social History 28 (spring 1995): 547-64; David Brody, "Time and Work During Early American Industrialism," Labor History 30 (winter 1989): 5-46; David R. Roediger and Philip S. Foner, Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day (Westport, CT, 1989); and Thomas C. Smith, "Peasant Time and Factory Time in Japan," Past and Present 111 (May 1986): 165-97. For a lucid review of the Thompsonjan approach, see Michael O'Malley, "Time, Work and Task Orientation: A Critique of American Historiography," Time and Society 1 (Sept. 1992): 341-58.

5. Daphne Merkin, "Name That Decade," New York Times, 25 May 1992. For similar uses of the decade, see Kurt Andersen, "The Talk of the Town: The Culture Industry," The New Yorker, 7 July 1997, 23-24; Andy Aaron, "Welcome to the '90s," The New Republic, 7 March 1994, 10; and Diane Crispell and Andy Zukerberg, "The Decade Waltz," American Demographics 15 (Nov. 1993): 48-56.

6. Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, trans. Peter Putnam (New York, 1953), 181; 18283. For an early work of history that takes the century as a unit of historic time, see Samuel Miller, A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. Part First; in Two Volumes: Containing a Sketch of the Revolutions and Improvements in Science, Arts, and Literature, During that Period (New York, 1803).

7. Bloch, Historian's Craft, 182.

8. Warren I. Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984), 102.

9. Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (New York, 1991), 109-110; for the importance of fashion to consumer culture, see William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York, 1993), esp. chap. 4, "Fashion and the Indispensable Thing," 91-111.

10. Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York, 1991), 18.

11. For an analysis of the motion picture "In the Company of Men" that declares that the movie is "revealing a truth about the late 1990s," see Annette Insdorf, "Men Behaving Very Badly as a 90s Metaphor," New York Times, 27 July 1997.

12. Merkin, "Name That Decade."

13. See, for example, two syntheses of William E. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32 (Chicago, 1958); and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (New York, 1963).

14. Aaron, "Welcome to the '90s."

15. Gould, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, 3.

16. O'Malley, Keeping Watch, 12-13; and the works cited in note 2.

17. O'Malley, Keeping Watch, 8. The classic sociological work on the relationship between time and society was begun by Emile Durkheim and refined by Pitirim Sorokin and Robert Merton; see Pitirim A. Sorokin and Robert K. Merton, "Social Time: A Methodological and Functional Analysis," American Journal of Sociology 42 (March 1937): 615-29. Also in the Durkheimian tradition are Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, trans. Francis J. Ditter, Jr., and Vida Yazdi Ditter (New York, 1980); and Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, ed. and trans. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago, 1992).

18. O'Malley, Keeping Watch; Brody, "Time and Work During Early American Industrialism." For an revestigation of the impact of "clock time" on what is often thought to be a "pre-capitalist" society, see Mark H. Smith, Old South Time in Comparative Perspective"; and Mark H. Smith, "Counting Clocks, Owning Time: Detailing and Interpreting Clock and Watch Ownership in the American South, 1739-1865," Time and Society 3 (Oct. 1994): 321-39.

19. Ticknor quoted in James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (Oxford, 1990), vii; James quoted in George M. Fredrickson, The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (New York, 1965), 1; Twain quoted in Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory, 90. For a good discussion of the difficulties involved in determining if a text is "culturally representative," and for an interpretative account of the wide-ranging role of the Civil War as a marker of cultural and social discontinuity, see Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory, 79-80, 87-90.

20. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983).

21. C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge, 1951), 154-55.

22. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory, 12.

23. O'Malley, Keeping Watch, 100,146,200; George Cotkin, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900 (New York, 1992), 3; Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York, 1967).

24. Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA, 1983), 110.

25. David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (Cambridge, 1987), 245-49; 327-29.

26. John Higham, "The Reorientation of American Culture in the 1890s," in John Weiss, ed., The Origins of Modern Consciousness (Detroit, 1965), 27.

27. See, for example, Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society; Leon Fink, Workingmen's Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics (Urbana, 1983); Susan Levine, Labor's True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age (Philadelphia, 1984); and Richard J. Ostreicher, Solidarity and Fragmentation: Working People and Class Consciousness in Detroit, 1875-1900 (Urbana, 1986).

28. Higham, "The Reorientation of American Culture in the 1890s," 27.

29. Dorothy Ross, "Historical Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century America," American Historical Review 89 (Oct. 1984): 909-28.

30. Philip Abrams, "The Sense of the Past and the Origins of Sociology," Past and Present 55 (May 1972): 18.

31. Kern, Culture of Time and Space, 29.

32. Unnamed critic in The Dial 57 (Sept. 1914), 127, cited in O'Malley, Keeping Watch, 208.

33. For a recent collection of essays that addresses the impact of modernity in a variety of intellectual and cultural arenas, see Dorothy Ross, ed., Modernist Impulses in the Human Sciences, 1870-1930 (Baltimore, 1994). On the history of modernity as a conceptual category, see Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (Cambridge, MA, 1985); and Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York, 1982).

34. Roland Marchand calls Updegraff's article "the most quoted piece of the 1920s" from Advertising and Selling. Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 (Berkeley, 1986), 4.

35. Kern, Culture of Time and Space, 130.

36. Lasch, True and Only Heaven, 105-106; for more on nostalgia see Michael S. Roth, "The Time of Nostalgia: Medicine, History, and Normality in 19th-Century France," Time and Society 1 (Sept. 1992): 271-86.

37. Henry F. May, "Shifting Perspectives on the 1920s," American Historical Review 43 (Dec. 1956): 416-17; and Lawrence W. Levine, "Progress and Nostalgia: The Self Image of the 1920s," in Lawrence W. Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural His tory (Oxford, 1993), 189-205.

38. For an excellent treatment of the widespread influence and importance of the concept of simultaneity, see Kern, Culture of Time and Space, 67-81; esp. 88.

39. Lasch, True and Only Heaven, 107.

40. Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties (New York, 1931). For more on generational self-awareness and the First World War, the key work is Robert Wohl, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge, MA, 1979). For a classic example of an author identifying his personal history with the history of the century, see Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century (New York, 1954).

41. Walter Lippmann, Liberty and the News (New York, 1920 [1919]), 14-15.

42. Walter Lippmann, American Inquisitors: A Commentary on Dayton and Chicago (New York, 1928), 118-19.

43. Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (New York, 1982 [1929]), 232,233.

44. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., New Viewpoints in American History (New York, 1922), 122.

45. Schlesinger, New Viewpoints, 280.

46. President's Research Committee on Social Trends, Recent Social Trends in the United States (New York, 1933), 2:xii.

47. For more on the 1920s as a turning point in the history of periodization, see Lasch, True and Only Heaven, 108-9.

48. May, "Shifting Perspectives on the 1920s," 405.

49. Walter Lippmann, Notes on the Crisis (New York, 1931), 4. This pamphlet contains six of Lippmann's early columns.

50. Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (New York, 1980), 280-81.

51. Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York, 1922), 138; 144.

52. Walter Lippmann, "What Officeholders Must Face," in Allan Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932 (New York, 1932), 60.

53. Walter Lippmann, "A Basic Fallacy of the Administration," in Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932, 71.

54. Walter Lippmann, "The President's Annual Message, 1931," in Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932, 74.

55. Walter Lippmann, "The New Congress," in Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932, 93-94. See also Jordan A. Schwarz, The Interregnum of Despair (Urbana, 1970); and Albert U. Romasco, The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, the Nation, the Depression (Oxford, 1965).

56. Norman B. Ryder, "The Cohort as a Concept in the Study of Social Change," American Sociological Review 30 (Dec. 1965): 843-61.

57. For an interesting analysis of the influence of the Revolutionary elites on a subsequent generation of political leaders, see George B. Forgie, Parricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York, 1979).

58. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. ed. (Oxford, 1983), 142. Emphasis in original. See also Wohl, Generation of 1914.

59. Hans Jaeger, "Generations in History: Reflections on a Controversial Concept," History and Theory 24 (1985): 273-92; see also Howard Schuman and Jacqueline Scott, "Generations and Collective Memories," American Sociological Review 54 (June 1989): 359-81; and Alan B. Spitzer, "The Historical Problem of Generations," American Historical Review 78 (Dec. 1973): 1353-85. For a review of this concept in French history, see Pierre Nora's essay, "Generation," in Pierre Nora, general editor, Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman and trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York, 1996), 1:499-531.

60. Walter Lippmann, "The Force of a Bad Example," in Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932, 241,242.

61. Lippmann, quoted in Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century, 290.

62. Most of Preface was written between 1925 and 1928, and it was published in April 1929.

63. Walter Lippmann, "Crisis and Renewal," in Nevins, ed., Interpretations, 1931-1932, 335.

64. Steven Biel, "Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday and the Idea of the Decade," Journal of American Studies 25 (August 1991): 260.

65. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 277, cited in David M. Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," Reviews in American History 14 (June 1986): 309.

66. New York Times, 14 Dec. 1954, cited in Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," 309.

67. Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," 315.

68. Allen, Only Yesterday, 238.

69. Allen, Only Yesterday, xiv.

70. Biel, "Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday and the Idea of the Decade," 262.

71. Allen, Only Yesterday, 81-82; caption of plate between 212 and 213; 120-21.

72. Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," 316.

73. Allen, Only Yesterday, 88-122; 226 - 44; 186-225.

74. Allen, Only Yesterday, 356-57.

75. Biel, "Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday and the ,Idea of the Decade," 263; Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday,' 311.

76. Book-of-the-Month Club News, November 1931, cited in Biel, "Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday and the Idea of the Decade," 264. Emphasis added. For more on the BMOC, see Janice Radway, "The Scandal of the Middlebrow: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Class Fracture, and Cultural Authority," South Atlantic Quarterly 89 (fall 1990): 703-36; Radway, "The Book-of-the-Month Club and the General Reader," in Reading in America: Literature and Social History, Cathy N. Davidson, ed. (Baltimore, 1989), 25984; and Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill, 1992), chap. 3.

77. New York Herald Tribune, 10 Nov. 1933, cited in Biel, "Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday and the Idea of the Decade," 265.

78. Allen, Only Yesterday, 358-61; Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," 310.

79. For an excellent analysis of Krutch's career and his writings, see Peter Gregg Slater, "The Negative Secularism of The Modern Temper: Joseph Wood Krutch," American Quarterly 33 (summer 1981): 185-205.

80. Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper: A Study and a Confession (New York, 1929), xiii, xvi.

81. Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture (New York, 1929). In some important respects, however, Muncie was rather more archetypal than typical. For example, Muncie's population contained one of the lowest proportion of immigrants and children of immigrants of any American city outside of the South. Richard Jensen, "The Lynds Revisited," Indiana Magazine of History 75 (Dec. 1979): 303-19.

82. Kennedy, "Revisiting Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday," 316.

83. Paula Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (Oxford, 1977); Lynn Dumenil, The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s (New York, 1995).

84. Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts (New York, 1937), 487.

85. Lynd and Lynd, Middletown in Transition, 487.

86. For more on the limits of class-based action in the depression, see Melvyn Dubofsky, "Not So 'Turbulent Years'" Another Look at the American 1930s," Amerikastudien 24 (1979): 5-20. The strength of the conservative, traditional aspects of depression-era culture is also explored in Warren I. Susman, "The Culture of the Thirties," in Susman, Culture as History, 150 - 83; and Lawrence W. Levine, "American Culture and the Great Depression," in Levine, Unpredictable Past, 206-30.

87. H.H. Hemming and Doris Hemming, "Translator's Introduction" to Andre Siegfried, America Comes of Age, trans. H. H. Hemming and Doris Hemming (New York, 1927), v.

88. Siegfried, America Comes of Age, 347.

89. May, "Shifting Perspectives on the 1920s," 409.

90. For a lucid account of the history of nostalgia, see Fred Davis, Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia (New York, 1979).

91. Donald Lowe, History of Bourgeois Perception (Chicago, 1982), esp. 4-5; 40.

92. Merkin, "Name that Decade."

93. Crispell and Zukerberg, "Decade Waltz," 48.

94. Bill Barol, "The Eighties are Over," Newsweek, 4 January 1988, 40-48.

95. Susman, Culture as History, 102.

96. For the historiographic backdrop to this shift, see the essays in Eric loner, ed. The New American History (Philadelphia, 1990); and Lynn Hunt, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley, 1989). See also John Toews, Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience," American Historical Review 92 (Oct. 1987): 879-907.

97. This neglect has been remedied by some important re-assessments of conservatism in American history, including Leonard J. Moore, "Good Old-Fashioned New Social History and the Twentieth-Century American Right," Reviews in American History 24 (Dec. 1996): 555-73; Alan Brinkley, "The Problem of American Conservatism," American Historical Review 99 (April 1994): 409-29; Leo Ribuffo, "Why Is There So Much Conservatism in the United States and Why Do So Few Historians Know Anything About It ?" American Historical Review 99 (April 1994): 438-49; and Michael Kazin, "The GrassRoots Right: New Histories of U.S. Conservatism in the Twentieth Century," American Historical Review 97 (Feb. 1992): 136-55.

98. For an insightful account that suggests that the cliches of decade-driven history are partially responsible for concealing the rise of the religious Right, see Leo P. Ribuffo, "God and Contemporary Politics," Journal of American History 79 (March 1993): 1515-33; esp. 1520.

99. As Leo Ribuffo has pointed out, three typical accounts of the "sixties" cover the accomplishments of Bill Graham while utterly disregarding Billy. Ribuffo, "God and Contemporary Politics," 1521, n. 14.

100. Dana Frank, Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919-1929 (Cambridge, 1994).

101. Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, 1996).

102. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory, 655.

103. Lasch, True and Only Heaven, 110.

104. Gerhard, "Periodization in European History," 913.
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Author:Smith, Jason Scott
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Date:Dec 22, 1998
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