In late 19th- and early 20th-century America, a new image of womanhood emerged that began to shape public views and understandings of women’s role in society. Identified by contemporaries as a Gibson Girl, a suffragist, a Progressive reformer, a bohemian feminist, a college girl, a bicyclist, a flapper, a working-class militant, or a Hollywood vamp, all of these images came to epitomize the New Woman, an umbrella term for modern understandings of femininity. Referring both to real, flesh-and-blood women, and also to an abstract idea or a visual archetype, the New Woman represented a generation of women who came of age between 1890 and 1920 and challenged gender norms and structures by asserting a new public presence through work, education, entertainment, and politics, while also denoting a distinctly modern appearance that contrasted with Victorian ideals. The New Woman became associated with the rise of feminism and the campaign for women’s suffrage, as well as with the rise of consumerism, mass culture, and freer expressions of sexuality that defined the first decades of the 20th century. Emphasizing youth, mobility, freedom, and modernity, the image of the New Woman varied by age, class, race, ethnicity, and geographical region, offering a spectrum of behaviors and appearances with which different women could identify. At times controversial, the New Woman image provided women with opportunities to negotiate new social roles and to promote ideas of equality and freedom that would later become mainstream.
C. J. Alvarez
The region that today constitutes the United States–Mexico borderland has evolved through various systems of occupation over thousands of years. Beginning in time immemorial, the land was used and inhabited by ancient peoples whose cultures we can only understand through the archeological record and the beliefs of their living descendants. Spain, then Mexico and the United States after it, attempted to control the borderlands but failed when confronted with indigenous power, at least until the late 19th century when American capital and police established firm dominance. Since then, borderland residents have often fiercely contested this supremacy at the local level, but the borderland has also, due to the primacy of business, expressed deep harmonies and cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican federal governments. It is a majority minority zone in the United States, populated largely by Mexican Americans. The border is both a porous membrane across which tremendous wealth passes and a territory of interdiction in which noncitizens and smugglers are subject to unusually concentrated police attention. All of this exists within a particularly harsh ecosystem characterized by extreme heat and scarce water.
In the post-1945 period, jazz moved rapidly from one major avant-garde revolution (the birth of bebop) to another (the emergence of free jazz) while developing a profusion of subgenres (hard bop, progressive, modal, Third Stream, soul jazz) and a new idiomatic persona (cool or hip) that originated as a form of African American resistance but soon became a signature of transgression and authenticity across the modern arts and culture. Jazz’s long-standing affiliation with African American urban life and culture intensified through its central role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. By the 1970s, jazz, now fully eclipsed in popular culture by rock n’ roll, turned to electric instruments and fractured into a multitude of hyphenated styles (jazz-funk, jazz-rock, fusion, Latin jazz). The move away from acoustic performance and traditional codes of blues and swing musicianship generated a neoclassical reaction in the 1980s that coincided with a mission to establish an orthodox jazz canon and honor the music’s history in elite cultural institutions. Post-1980s jazz has been characterized by tension between tradition and innovation, earnest preservation and intrepid exploration, Americanism and internationalism.
In the early 1910s, Black Americans turned to motion pictures in order to resist the incessant racism they experienced through popular culture and in their everyday lives. Entrepreneurs, educators, and uplift-minded individuals believed that this modern medium could be used as a significant means to demonstrate Black humanity and dignity while, perhaps, making money in the burgeoning industry. The resultant race films ranged in content from fictionalized comedies and dramas to local exhibitions of business meetings and Black institutions. Racial uplift was a central tenet of the race film industry and was reflected most clearly in the intra-racial debate over positive versus negative images of Black life. Inside theaters, Black spectators also developed ways to mitigate racism on screen when race films were not the evening’s entertainment. The race film industry encouraged Black institution-building in the form of a critical Black film criticism tradition, Black-owned theaters, and the hiring of Black employees. Race films and the industry that made their success possible constituted a community affair that involved filmmakers, businessmen, leaders, journalists, and the moviegoing public.
Energy systems have played a significant role in U.S. history; some scholars claim that they have determined a number of other developments. From the colonial period to the present, Americans have shifted from depending largely on wood and their own bodies, as well as the labor of draft animals; to harnessing water power; to building steam engines; to extracting fossil fuels—first coal and then oil; to distributing electrical power through a grid. Each shift has been accompanied by a number of other striking changes, especially in the modern period associated with fossil fuels. By the late 19th century, in part thanks to new energy systems, Americans were embracing industrialization, urbanization, consumerism, and, in a common contemporary phrase, “the annihilation of space and time.” Today, in the era of climate change, the focus tends to be on the production or supply side of energy systems, but a historical perspective reminds us to consider the consumption or demand side as well. Just as important as the striking of oil in Beaumont, Texas, in 1901, was the development of new assumptions about how much energy people needed to sustain their lives and how much work they could be expected to do. Clearly, Americans are still grappling with the question of whether their society’s heavy investment in coal- and petroleum-based energy systems has been worthwhile.
Between 1896 and 1915, Black professional entertainers transformed New York City’s most established culture industries—musical theater and popular song publishing—and helped create two new ones: social dancing and music recording. While Black culture workers’ full impact on popular entertainment and Black modernism would not be felt until after World War I, the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age were decades in the making. Stage performers Williams and Walker and their musical director Will Marion Cook introduced full-scale Black musical theater to Broadway between 1902 and 1909; songwriters-turned-performers Cole and Johnson expanded the style and substance of ragtime songs along Tin Pan Alley; James Reese Europe created a labor union for Black musicians that got hundreds of players out of Black nightclubs into high-paying White elites’ homes, eventually bringing a 200-person all-Black symphony orchestra to Carnegie Hall for the first concert of its kind at the august performance space. James Europe’s Clef Club Inc. also caught the ears of Manhattan’s leading social dancers, the White Irene and Vernon Castle, in ways that helped disseminate Europe’s ragtime dance bands across America and, by 1913, became the first Black band to record phonographs, setting important precedents for the hit jazz and blues records of the postwar era. While James Europe would go on to win renown as the musical director of the Harlem Hell Fighters—the most-decorated infantry unit to fight in World War I—his prewar community of professional entertainers had already successfully entered into New York City’s burgeoning, and increasingly national, commercial culture markets. By studying some of the key figures in this story it becomes possible to get a fuller sense of the true cultural ferment that marked this era of Black musical development. Stage performers Williams and Walker and Cole and Johnson, behind-the-scenes songwriters Will Marion Cook and James Weldon Johnson, and musicians such as James Reese Europe’s artistic and entrepreneurial interventions made African Americans central players in creating the Manhattan musical marketplace and helped make New York City the capital of U.S. performance and entertainment.