Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955 | Newberry

Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955

Harriet Monroe in her Cass Street Office. Harry Hansen Papers, The Newberry Library.

Harriet Monroe in her Cass Street Office. Harry Hansen Papers, The Newberry Library.

Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher, Alice Roullier, Alice B. Toklas, Barney Goodspeed, Bobsy Goodspeed, Richard Bokum, Thornton Wilder. Fanny Butcher Papers, The Newberry Library, Chicago.

A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for college and university faculty
Monday, June 17, 2013Friday, July 12, 2013
(This program continues for multiple sessions)

This institute will take place at the Newberry Library, Chicago. Participants will also visit Chicago museums, clubs, neighborhoods, landmarks, and other archives.

Center for American History and Culture Programs

By 1920, Chicago had become “the literary capital of the United States,” according to one of the nation’s influential cultural arbiters, H. L. Mencken. Indeed, American literature of the period bore an aesthetic shaped by a palpable confrontation with the city’s railroads, skyscrapers, and stockyards. Chicago helped produce many of the most important writers of the era. Many started as journalists for Chicago newspapers, which were famous for breeding sharp, recognizable voices. The tremendous growth of the city, including new capital and potential patronage, world-renowned art and architecture, jazz and blues, and the cultural vitality that came from an influx of immigrants, drew artists and writers to Chicago. “It is, indeed, amazing how steadily a Chicago influence shows itself when the literary ancestry and training of present-day American writers are investigated,” Mencken claims in his 1920 essay, “The brand of the sugar-cured ham seems to be upon all of them.”

The Newberry Library’s Dr. William Scholl Center for American History and Culture will host a four-week summer 2013 NEH institute for college and university faculty that will explore Chicago’s profound influence on the literature and culture of the twentieth century. The institute will begin by considering the persistent cultural resonances of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and will end with an analysis of mid-century representations of African-American experiences in literature and the visual arts. Institute faculty will encourage 25 participants to engage actively and critically with the archival collections held at the Newberry in order to understand the behind-the-scenes networks that contributed to the explosion of cultural styles associated with the modernist period. The institute in fact aims to attract scholars with an inclination to carry out original archival research. From the records of Chicago’s newspapers and journalists, clubs and arts organizations, famous and not-so-famous writers, editors, artists, book designers, and publishers, the Newberry’s collections on this topic are unsurpassed. Particularly relevant collections include the papers of Sherwood Anderson, the Arts Club, Fanny Butcher, Floyd Dell, the Dill Pickle Club, Henry Blake Fuller, Harry Hansen, Ben Hecht, and Ernest Hemingway. An overview of these collections is available online.

Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955 will be led by Liesl Olson, a literary scholar and Director of the Scholl Center who has spent the past two years researching in the Newberry’s collections. The institute will feature five invited faculty members and three in-house faculty members in the fields of literature, history, art history, print culture, and African-American studies. These faculty include:

Carl Smith, Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies, Northwestern University.
Neil Harris
Preston and Sterling Morton Professor of History and of Art History, The University of Chicago.
Tim Spears, Professor of American Studies and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Middlebury College.
Bill Savage
Distinguished Senior Lecturer in English, Northwestern University.
Jacqueline Goldsby
Professor of English and African-American Studies, Yale University.
Martha Briggs
Lloyd Lewis Curator of Modern Manuscripts, The Newberry Library.
Paul F. Gehl
Custodian of the Wing Foundation on the History of Printing, The Newberry Library.

The goal of the institute is to understand the literature of Chicago in connection with the unique urban, economic, and cultural history of the city. Four themes will be emphasized:1) the geographic centrality of Chicago both locally and internationally; 2) modernism’s distinctive reception history in Chicago; 3) the women in Chicago who served as key cultural arbiters; 4) and the connections between the Chicago Renaissance and the Chicago Black Renaissance. The institute will deepen participants’ knowledge of the international impact of Chicago’s cultural innovations (which usually focus on architecture) by illuminating how the literature of Chicago was connected to developments across the arts. Drawing upon scholarship that locates modernist aesthetics in the growth of the urban metropolis, the institute will place Chicago at the center of a new modernist geography.

Application Instructions:
Applications must be postmarked no later than March 4, 2013. Upon receipt of the application, you will be sent a confirmation email. If you do not receive confirmation, please contact For more information, including the institute’s schedule and application instructions please see the Director’s Letter to Applicants.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.