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The New Era

American Thought and Culture in the 1920s

Paul V. Murphy

In the 1920s, Americans talked of their times as “modern,” which is to say, fundamentally different, in pace and texture, from what went before—a new era. With the end of World War I, an array of dizzying inventions and trends pushed American society from the Victorian era into modernity.

The New Era provides a history of American thought and culture in the 1920s through the eyes of American intellectuals determined to move beyond an older role as gatekeepers of cultural respectability and become tribunes of openness, experimentation, and tolerance instead. Recognizing the gap between themselves and the mainstream public, younger critics alternated between expressions of disgust at American conformity and optimistic pronouncements of cultural reconstruction. The book tracks the emergence of a new generation of intellectuals who made culture the essential terrain of social and political action and who framed a new set of arguments and debates—over women’s roles, sex, mass culture, the national character, ethnic identity, race, democracy, religion, and values—that would define American public life for fifty years.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 282
978-0-7425-4925-8 • Hardback • December 2011 • $92.00 • (£65.00)
978-0-7425-4926-5 • Paperback • July 2016 • $30.00 • (£19.95)
978-1-4422-1540-5 • eBook • December 2011 • $29.99 • (£19.95)
Paul V. Murphy is associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University.
Foreword by Howard Brick and Lewis Perry, Series Editors
Introduction: The New Era
Chapter 1: The Gay Table
Chapter 2: Navigating Mass Society
Chapter 3: The Bridge
Chapter 4: Mulatto America
Chapter 5: The Eclipsed Public
Chapter 6: The Inner Check

Bibliographical Essay
Murphy has laced a fresh, wide-ranging synthesis with probing portraits of individuals in a way that will prove useful to students and scholars alike.
Joan Shelley Rubin, University of Rochester

The New Era takes as its point of departure the insights of William Ogburn and Van Wyck Brooks into the tension between culture and social experience in the early years of the twentieth century. Intellectuals and artists made that tension the object of their own creative work, Paul Murphy explains, and offered new syntheses intended to overcome it. The exploration of hybrid ethnic identities by novelists Nella Larsen and Jean Toomer and sociologist Robert Park, Hart Crane’s ambition to reconcile poetic form and technological power, and Mary Parker Follett’s attempt to integrate the individual and the group in a new pluralist politics are among the many intriguing episodes in his wide-ranging survey of the period. By the decade’s end, the quest for a common fund of values, ideas, and symbols—a unified culture of modernity—had emerged as the defining feature of the intellectual vocation and the most important legacy of the twenties for what followed.
Casey Nelson Blake, Columbia University

A deft and often surprising reconsideration of a decade we thought we knew. Murphy's insights hold obvious implications for our own time.
Gregory Sumner, author of Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels