October 13, 2005

The Big Jump

Discussion this week was over the years 1870-1920 in American history, often referred to as a Transitional Period. That's a tricky term to use, because it seems to require further explanation. History is transitional in nature. As a description of events transpiring over the course of a flow of time, it presents with constant movement from one state to another. What, then, makes these particular fifty years in American history so transitional? Is it because we can't think of anything better to call it?

Basically, the Civil War was the pivotal event around which American history hinges. Most of the differences between the Young America of the Founding Fathers and the Modern America of the 1920s have their roots in the shift caused by those four years of bloody conflict. The 50+ years that followed are just America adjusting to this shift: Reconstruction, The Gilded Age, Industrialization, Closing the Frontier, the Progressive Era . . . It's almost as though the South was holding the country back, and when it suddenly lost the ability to do so, we leaped forward with a vengeance.

Considering all of the things that gained a solid hold in the United States after the Civil War, this seems to follow. Put another way, a number of important developments arose to coincide conveniently with the defeat of the South in the Civil War. Without their agrarian interests, America industrialized rapidly. Without their religious fundamentalism, Naturalism and its brethren took hold in the American mind. Soldiers from both sides, and many others, headed West and conquered the frontier.

Not that the South was not still a potent force in its own way, and not that it would never be again. The Ku Klux Klan began during the Reconstruction, and were nearing the peak of their influence by 1920. Southern authors and artists were influential and nationally popular during this time and afterwards.

Basically, though, I don't have a great deal of meaningful reflection from this week's class, which should be readily apparent by now. The Transitional Period is difficult to try and capture quickly and effectively, and I just can't seem to latch onto one particular element that interested me enough to generate a significant firing of the synapses, flowing of the creative juices, or stimulating the little grey cells.

Posted by Jared at October 13, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack