History 346  The Gilded Age
Roger Williams University
CAS 228
MWF 10:00 - 10:50
Spring Semester 2014
Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. D.
Office:  GHH 215
Hours:  M, W, F,  11:00 - 1:00
Phone:  254-3230
E-mail:  mswanson@rwu.edu
Read the first in the "Ragged Dick" series by clicking here.
Focusing upon the period from the period from 1876 through 1903, this course will examine the rise of Populism and the precursors of progressivism and a response to unprecedented technological and social change.

Catalog, Roger Williams University

The final decades of the nineteenth century dramatized the hopes and fears of American about the course of industrial "progress." The "gay nineties" of popular lore were a time of adventure and excitement. Mustachioed men in derby hats promenaded along tree lined streets with elegant women in high-buttoned shoes, bustles, and flowing lace dresses. In melodious harmony, people crooned the new popular songs like "Daisy" and "The Sidewalks of New York." At the local saloon patrons could still enjoy a free lunch with frosty mugs of beer that cost only a nickel. When the World's Fair opened in Chicago in 1893, people came from all over the country to marvel at the achievements of technology and the evidence of rapid progress demonstrated at the "great white city" erected by the lakefront.

John Whiteclay Chambers II, The Tyranny of Change
Not quite sure how to behave?  Click here.

The 1890s were a time of disastrous events that evoked deep foreboding among Americans. The year 1893, which marked the opening of the World's Fair, also ushered in the worst depression the country had yet experienced. Some 500 banks and 15,000 businesses failed. Hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work without savings or relief. For the first time large numbers of tramps roamed the countryside. In one of the first mass protest marches on the nation's capital, a group of jobless men, led by Jacob Coxey and calling themselves "Coxey's Army," marched on Washington, vainly urging federal relief. They were arrested....Industrial violence, crime, disease, and extensive urban poverty challenged American ideals of freedom, democracy, and a relatively classless and harmonious society.

John Whiteclay Chambers II,
The Tyranny of Change
Course Texts:

Chambers, John Whiteclay, 
The Tyranny of Change, America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000
Clemens, Samuel L.
The Gilded Age
Hartford, CT.  The American Publishing Company, 1874 (Available online at
the link above, or downloadable here  )
Note: I just noticed that there is at least one page missing from the Google Books
  version linked above.  Other versions are available through the Internet
  Archive:  here and an audiobook here, if you'd like to try having it read to

Riis, Jacob
How the Other Half Lives

Schlereth, Thomas J.,
Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life
New York: Harper Perennial Editions, 1992

It would be hard to imagine two paragraphs more different from each other than the two paragraphs with which I began this introduction. Both paragraphs really are written by the same person. Indeed, they appear within pages of each other. It is the contrast between good times and disasterous times which makes the The Gilded Age such an interesting period in American history. Change is a constant in American life, but few decades were as conscious of the pace of change as the nineties were. Consider for a moment the generation most like you... those who were emerging from their teens in 1890 or thereabouts. The Civil War was less a part of the distant past than the Viet Nam War is now. Native born Americans were likely to have parents or other relatives who had engaged in that conflict. At twenty, young people of the nineties had been raised with the horse and buggy. At forty, these same people (now middle aged) would likely have ridden in a motor car and may even have witnessed a "flying machine". And they would have witnessed flying machines applied to the art of war. At sixty, they may have been up in one themselves... they certainly would have heard radio.
Sorting out and coping with all that change must have been a mammoth task back then. Understanding the impact of that change will be our task over the next fourteen weeks. The fulcrum of our story will be the period 1880-1900, but we’ll flash back a bit before that to the year of the Centennial (1876) and stretch our necks forward to look at the years immediately before the First World War.

To help us with this task we have two textbooks, two books from the era, and I'm going to ask you to delve in some outside materials, as well. Chambers' The Tyranny of Change and Schlereth's Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life work nicely as a pair. I think we are all aware that we partake in two histories: on the one hand there are the major events, movements, and changes which sweep across the nation and which concern the larger society as a whole. These form the focus of Chambers' book. We will read something like the first two hundred pages. On the other hand, we have our private lives to live as well. Most of us don't spend every waking moment thinking about politics or economics: when we do think about them, we think about their impact on our lives--what we can do to capitalize on x or how we can avoid the negative impact of y. As the subtitle of Schlereth's book implies, we will become informed of the changes in everyday life through it.
Click for more information about Jacob Riis
This year I’m adding two universal period resources for us all:  one is  Jacob Riis’ famous How the Other Half Lives.  One could fairly call this the first major piece of Investigative Journalism. 

This course relies heavily on the Internet, as well.  I will be providing a web syllabus for you, and this will direct your attention to many additional sources which I will expect you to use.  The URL (Universal Resource Locator) is http://hist346gildedage.homestead.com/

Work for the course

If you've taken courses from me before you know pretty much how I operate. Classes will be in the form of informal lectures and free-ranging discussions on readings which I will have asked you to prepare in advance. I will provide a set of guidelines for reading and discussion about once a week, usually on Fridays.  These will be in the form of an update to the class website. Consider the Internet version the real weekly syllabus.  Paper syllabi are really inadequate for our purposes, though I’ll provide a downloadable one for those who like to keep such things in a notebook.  I generally assume that the materials in the readings are understood, unless questions are raised in the course of the class. I don't mind being interrupted, so feel free to enter into active participation.

In addition to the reading assignments to prepare you for class discussion, I'm asking you to do three things:

1. I want each of you to read an American novel published between 1874 and 1910. I'll hand out a list of authors and titles shortly. The novels on this list will be, by and large, the kinds of things that literate Americans were reading during those days.  Later, some of them came to be considered "classics".  Others disappeared from public consciousness as fads and interests changed.   I will ask you to write a short report in which you reflect on what the novel contributes to your understanding of life around the turn of the century
2. I want each of you to conduct research, using internet sources, on a movement, event, person, art form, leisure activity, fashion, or whatever, as practiced during the Gilded Age. You will report your work in a short project (5 pages or so), which can be either an informal paper (body notes, bibliography) or a web Journal if you prefer.
What was Hull House and why was it important?
3.  You will keep a Journal as if you were living through the period under investigation. I want you to invent a character (age, economic background, ethnic background, gender, political and philosophical stances, etc.) and then react to the materials in your texts as if you were that person. Write in this journal every time you do reading or conduct an investigation for this course, and write about a page. Keep this journal in a loose-leaf notebook, and make sure your name is on every page. I will collect these journals at the middle and at the end of the semester. I may also collect them at random times throughout the semester with no prior notice.  The best of these may well also include materials discovered in the course of research.  In past years students have really let their imaginations loose on this project.  Last time I offered the course I nominated a half dozen for the  Academic Showcase.  Students had gone so far as to antique the paper upon which they wrote using tea or some other substance.  Many, if not all, included pictures, scrapbook form.  I’m hoping for similar results this time.  From Time to Time I will call for Volunteers to read excerpts from these journals–if I don’t get any, I’ll designate just who the volunteers are to be. We may  mount an exhibition of these journals during Finals week.  I haven’t quite decided yet.
The Final Exam will be optional for those who perform to a decent standard on the three elements above.


Your grade for the course will be based on the following:
1.Semester Journal (cumulative) 50%
2.Midterm Take-home Examination 20%
3.Research Assignment 20%
4.Report on the Novel 10%
5.Final Exam (optional) up to a 1.5 grade level boost.

Attendance Policy

Itry to be as understanding regarding excused absences as I can be.  I excuse absences for illness, for family emergencies, and for other school requirements, such as participation in away athletic activities.  I do not require proof.  I do require notification, preferably in advance, by e-mail : mswanson@rwu.edu 

I do not want to waste time calling the roll, once I have all your names more or less straight in my mind.  Consequently, I pass around a sign-in sheet on a daily basis.  It is your responsibility to get your name on the sheet before the end of class.

More than four unexcused absences will negatively impact your grade

Academic Honesty:

The twin supports of academic life are collaboration and independence of thought. In this class, there is no curve. In the largest sense, you’re not in competition with each other, and to the degree that you can assist each other in learning you’ll win nothing but praise from me. Yet it is equally important that each student exercise his/her own independent judgment, and have confidence in his/her own mind. Plagiarism defeats the whole purpose of the enterprise, and the University will not tolerate this particular form of intellectual theft.

For the university statement on plagiarism, and for a general exposition of standards of Academic Integrity, consult the Roger Williams University Website. You have learned appropriate techniques for incorporating ideas from others with your own in writing classes and elsewhere. When in doubt about something you’ve written, don’t hesitate to show it to me or any other professor and ask for an opinion. The Roger Williams University Writing Center is very helpful to those who make the effort to use it. It has also posted a number of helpful documents online.
The other gave this course its name.  That's the author in a caricature of him delivering one of his famous lectures.  The book might be called an extended criticism of the era and its political and social corruption.  All that glitters is not gold.