Modern. A word for all users—flexible in any context, malleable to a fault, willing to champion the meaning of the moment. Announcing winners of a contest in 1930 to define the elusive concept, the editors of the Forum confessed that "with so many meanings, dependent upon the whim of the user, there is some question as to whether modern really means anything anymore." With this quandary in mind, let us set out to experience what "modern" meant in the United States during the tumultuous postwar period we call the "Roaring Twenties."
- How was modernity defined in the Twenties? What did "becoming modern" mean to the nation as a whole? to people in their personal lives?
- What aspects of modernity were welcomed, resisted, or unrecognized in the Twenties? Why?
- How were the social and political divisions of the period reflected in the debates over modernity?
- In what ways is the decade's experience with modernity familiar and resonant today?
Sections in MODERNITY
Each section presents primary resources, introductory notes, classroom discussion questions, and supplemental links.
- Modern Youth
- - Collected commentary on modern youth, 1920-1931
- - F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," short story, Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920
- - Silent films
- - The Flapper, 1920
- - Our Dancing Daughters, 1928 (three clips)
- - Our Modern Maidens, 1929 (three clips)
- Modern Woman
- - Collected commentary on the modern woman, 1919-1936
- - Alvah Posen, Them Days Is Gone Forever, comic strip series, selection, 1922-1923
- - Sinclair Lewis, Main Street, novel, 1920, excerpts: Carol Kennicott in Washington, DC
- - Newsreel (silent): "Are Women's Sports Too Strenuous?" 1925
- Modern Democracy
- - Collected commentary on democracy in postwar America, 1918-1929
- Modern Faith
- - Collected commentary, 1919-1929
- Modern City
- - Lewis Mumford, "The Intolerable City: Must It Keep On Growing?" Harper's, February 1926, excerpt
- - Collected commentary on the skyscraper, 1920-1930
- - Newsreels (silent)
- - "Old and New Detroit," 1923
- - "905 Feet High" (New York City), 1929
- - Poetry on the modern city
- - Robert Frost, "A Brook in the City," 1921
- - Hart Crane, "To Brooklyn Bridge," 1930
- Modern City in Art [New York City]
- - Chart: New York City in Visual Art of the 1920s
- - Charles Sheeler, Skyscrapers, oil on canvas, 1922
- - Louis Lozowick, New York, lithograph, ca. 1925
- - Edward Steichen, Sunday Night, 40th Street, gelatin silver print, ca. 1925
- - Georgia O'Keeffe, City Night, oil on canvas, 1926
- - Edward Hopper, From Williamsburg Bridge, oil on canvas, 1928
- - Walker Evans, Brooklyn Bridge, gelatin silver print, 1929
- - Martin Lewis, Glow of the City, drypoint on tan laid paper with blue fibers, 1929
- - Bertram Hartman, Trinity Church and Wall Street, oil on canvas, 1929
- - Florine Stettheimer, The Cathedrals of Broadway, oil on canvas, 1929
- Modern City in Film
- - Manhatta, silent art film, 1921
- - Intertitles text from Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
- - Skyscraper Symphony, silent art film, 1929
- - The Crowd, Hollywood silent film, 1928, opening sequence
- - Cockeyed, special-effects newsreel, ca. 1925, clip
- - "The City of Skyscrapers," newsreel, early 1920s
Image: Traffic in downtown Detroit, corner of Michigan and Griswold, photograph, ca. 1920 (detail). Detroit Public Library, Burton Historical Collection, DPA4395. Reproduced by permission.