Frank Christianson and Leslee Thorne-Murphy
Philanthropic Discourse in Anglo-American Literature from 1850-1920
(Indiana University Press, 2017)
From the mid-19th century until the rise of the modern welfare state in the early 20th century, Anglo-American philanthropic giving gained an unprecedented measure of cultural authority as it changed in kind and degree. Civil society took on the responsibility for confronting the adverse effects of industrialism, and transnational discussions of poverty, urbanization, women’s work, and sympathy provided a means of understanding and debating social reform. While philanthropic institutions left a transactional record of money and materials, philanthropic discourseyielded a rich corpus of writing that represented, rationalized, and shaped these rapidly industrializing societies, drawing on and informing other modernizing discourses including religion, economics, and social science. Showing the fundamentally transatlantic nature of this discourse from 1850 to 1920, the authors gather a wide variety of literary sources that crossed national and colonial borders within the Anglo-American range of influence. Through manifestos, fundraising tracts, novels, letters, and pamphlets, they piece together the intellectual world where philanthropists reasoned through their efforts and redefined the public sector.
Review by Jarica Watts presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Philanthropic Discourse in Anglo-American Literature from 1850-1920 is an ambitious project that maps the transnational threads of industry, urbanization, colonization, social reform, and gender politics onto the field of philanthropic studies. Professors Frank Christianson and Leslee Thorne-Murphy argue that philanthropy facilitates forms of affiliation across geographic, national, and social boundaries and can thus be used as a lens through which scholars approach Anglophone literature—particularly the social realism of American, British, and Indian texts.
As war and revolution, industrialization and urban growth, shook the world through the mid-1800s, new demands were placed on philanthropic endeavors as questions emerged probing how to improve the quality of human life. The articles in this collection draw on documentary records, manifestos, fundraising tracts, and novels to reveal the emergence of a dual system of philanthropy: valiant private efforts, on one hand, and increased public responsibility for those in need, on the other. By the turn of the 20th Century, a professional class of philanthropists and social welfare activists worked to enact change at the community level, creating a more integrated and inclusive type of philanthropy. While women like Angela Burdett-Coutts, Jane Addams, Henrietta Barnett, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott were able to exert more influence, exploring the ways philanthropy could support the needs of all humankind, particularly the poor, other reformers, mistakenly sure that the Western model was superior, attempted to impose Western concepts of philanthropy on other cultures. As Suzanne Daly argues in Chapter 3, oftentimes that philanthropy took the form of imperial education and its associations with coercion, indoctrination, and epistemic or structural violence.
What becomes obvious in the nine essays in this collection is that philanthropic discourse not only crosses national and colonial borders, but it demonstrates the common discursive elements of poverty, patronage, sympathy, race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Taken together, the essays in this collection showcase a diverse written tradition at a formative moment in the development of philanthropy.
Reading this text in light of Trump-era politics had me thinking about the ways in which the global complexities and diversities of 19th Century philanthropy can shed very valuable light on today’s philanthropic climate—from the explosion of tech philanthropy (think here of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) to woman mega-givers (Laurene Powell Jobs is a fine example) to immigration funding to all of the Go Fund Me requests popping up on each of our Facebook feeds. To be sure, this is not a time for people with resources to be bystanders. As Professors Christensen and Thorne-Murphy show so beautifully, there is a disruptive force to philanthropy which holds the promise of helping to reduce inequality while empowering individuals to act and speak for themselves.
Captains of Charity: The Writing and Wages of Postrevolutionary Atlantic Benevolence
(University of New Hampshire Press, 2017)
In this thematically rich book, Mary Kathleen Eyring examines authors whose writings were connected with their charitable endeavors, which addressed the worst by-products of the brisk maritime commerce in Atlantic seaport cities in the first half of the nineteenth century. She argues that charitable institutions and societies emerged in this era because they captured and contained the discontent of imperiled and impoverished groups, thereby effectively thwarting the development of a revolutionary class in America.
According to Eyring, the men and women who most successfully wrote about and engaged in benevolent work strategically connected their work with the affluence generated by maritime commerce. The water trades supported the growth of the American publishing industry, but they also generated both vast inequities in wealth and physically and economically hazardous conditions that, in the absence of a welfare state, required the intervention of benevolent societies. Laborers in Atlantic port cities barred from lucrative professions by gender, race, physical ability, or social status found a way to make a living wage by conjoining the literary with the charitable—and attaching both to a profit structure. In so doing, they transformed the nature of American benevolence and gave rise to the nonprofit sector, which has since its inception provided discontented laborers with a forum in which to express their critique of for-profit American enterprise, by imitating it.
In Captains of Charity, Eyring looks at writers who overcame their marginalized status by bringing together the strands of maritime industry, publishing, and benevolence. These include Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two black clergymen who managed a massive relief effort when refugees fleeing revolution in Haiti transported the yellow fever virus to Philadelphia in 1793; Nancy Prince, a free woman of color who sought her livelihood in the Protestant missions of Jamaica in the years immediately following Britain’s emancipation of laborers in its Caribbean colonies; Sarah Josepha Hale, who parlayed the social influence she had gained as the founder of a seaman’s aid society in Boston into a role as editor of the hugely popular periodical Godey’s Lady’s Book; and Sarah Pogson Smith, who donated the proceeds of her writing to such prominent charitable causes as the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and then capitalized on the goodwill this charity work generated among her wealthy friends in New York City, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
The Popular Frontier
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2017)
When William F. Cody introduced his Wild West exhibition to European audiences in 1887, the show soared to new heights of popularity and success. With its colorful portrayal of cowboys, Indians, and the taming of the North American frontier, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West popularized a myth of American national identity and shaped European perceptions of the United States. The Popular Frontier is the first collection of essays to explore the transnational impact and mass-cultural appeal of Cody’s Wild West.
As editor Frank Christianson explains in his introduction, for the first four years after Cody conceived it, the Wild West exhibition toured the United States, honing the operation into a financially solvent enterprise. When the troupe ventured to England for its first overseas booking, its success exceeded all expectations. Between 1887 and 1906 the Wild West performed in fourteen countries, traveled more than 200,000 miles, and attracted a collective audience in the tens of millions.
How did Europeans respond to Cody’s vision of the American frontier? And how did European countries appropriate what they saw on display? Addressing these questions and others, the contributors to this volume consider how the Wild West functioned within social and cultural contexts far grander in scope than even the vast American West. Among the topics addressed are the pairing of William F. Cody and Theodore Roosevelt as embodiments of frontier masculinity, and the significance of the show’s most enduring persona, Annie Oakley.
An informative and thought-provoking examination of the Wild West’s foreign tours, The Popular Frontier offers new insight into late-nineteenth-century gender politics and ethnicity, the development of American nationalism, and the simultaneous rise of a global mass culture.
Review by Phillip A. Snyder presented at Faculty Book Lunch
In 2003 I was standing in the large dining hall of the castle on Cornwall’s St. Michael’s Mount when I caught a glimpse of something in a small adjoining room that was completely familiar yet totally foreign to that environment—a vintage 19th-century slick fork, half-seat, high-cantled buckaroo saddle. Above the saddle hung a framed newspaper article describing it as a gift to the Baron St. Levan from his friend William F. Cody. “Wow,” I thought, “Buffalo Bill sure got around.”
As this fine essay collection illustrates, in transporting their versions of the American frontier throughout the British Isles and Europe, Cody and his Wild West Show (especially with the addition of the Congress of Rough Riders of the World) did much more than get around: they transformed an initially national enterprise into a quintessentially international one, and, in Frank Christianson’s words, “ritualized multiple strains of nationalist discourse that were, in turn, part of a broader shift in transatlantic culture of the late nineteenth century” (21). Robert W. Rydell argues for Cody’s influence on European peace talks; Jamie Horrocks brilliantly parallels Cody with Oscar Wilde in their posed sartorial splendor as international celebrities; Jeremy M. Johnston links Cody with Teddy Roosevelt and notions of American exceptionalism; Monica Rico and Jennifer R. Henneman write on Annie Oakley, respectively, as an embodiment of the transnational “New Girl” and of English ideas regarding “natural” womanhood; Emily C. Burns explores the implications of Cody’s masculine “colonization” of Paris as an extension of the western frontier; Julia S. Stetler interrogates German fascination with the indigenous members of Cody’s troop; Chris Dixon connects the Wild West’s five-week run in Barcelona with historical Spanish-American relations; Renee M. Laegreid investigates Italian and fascist appropriations of the Buffalo Bill myth; and, finally, Christianson adds a fitting note of Anglo-American epilogue and then calls for further transnational studies of Cody’s influence abroad.
We can be reassured, then, that Buffalo Bill will continue to get around.
The Sociable City: An American Intellectual Tradition
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)
When celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted despaired in 1870 that the “restraining and confining conditions” of the city compelled its inhabitants to “look closely upon others without sympathy,” he was expressing what many in the United States had already been saying about the nascent urbanization that would continue to transform the nation’s landscape: that the modern city dramatically changes the way individuals interact with and feel toward one another. An antiurbanist discourse would pervade American culture for years to come, echoing Olmsted’s skeptical view of the emotional value of urban relationships. But as more and more people moved to the nation’s cities, urbanists began to confront this pessimism about the ability of city dwellers to connect with one another.
The Sociable City investigates the history of how American society has conceived of urban relationships and considers how these ideas have shaped the cities in which we live. As the city’s physical and social landscapes evolved over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, urban intellectuals developed new vocabularies, narratives, and representational forms to express the social and emotional value of a wide variety of interactions among city dwellers.
Turning to source materials often overlooked by scholars of urban life—including memoirs, plays, novels, literary journalism, and museum exhibits—Jamin Creed Rowan unearths an expansive body of work dedicated to exploring and advocating the social configurations made possible by the city. His study aims to better understand why we have built and governed cities in the ways we have, and to imagine an urban future that will effectively preserve and facilitate the interpersonal associations and social networks that city dwellers need to live manageable, equitable, and fulfilling lives.
Review by Mike Taylor presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Thanks to Jamin’s generosity, I had the chance to see this book in proposal form a few months ago as I work toward submitting my own. So, to engage with the final product has been particularly informative methodologically, as well as intellectually engaging and enjoyable.
As many of you know, I recently moved from the urban squalor of Vancouver, BC to the rural paradise of Mapleton, Utah. Yet, as I consider Jamin’s concept of urban sociability, The Sociable City leaves me longing for the day-to-day interactions with food vendors, street musicians, shop owners, and the like for whom I developed what Jamin describes as “a wry fondness . . . , an appreciation for those one may never see but who nevertheless provide the mutual support that makes it possible to lead a satisfying life in the city” (154).
In The Sociable City, Jamin turns to such oft-overlooked sources of early twentieth-century urban ideologies as memoirs, plays, and museum exhibits, in order to trace the evolution of urbanist discourse in the United States from dominant ideas of sympathy that emerges from “intimate social relations” and “nurturing communities” (2), to the concept of “interdependent sociability” (7-8). Through this intellectual mapping of shifting urban imaginaries, Jamin emphasizes how the ever-changing affective interactions of city dwellers result in the literal reshaping of the physical built environment of our cities.
Jamin threads this argument throughout each chapter by analyzing the contrasting constructions from the natural space of Central Park to the public housing structures of such urban centers as Chicago and Philadelphia. Within these public spaces, The Sociable City rebuilds a conversation between leading sociologists, settlement activist writers, African American intellectuals, New Yorker journalists, novelists, and others who began to understand human interactions in the city as a form of ecology, a natural system of interdependence and shared social satisfaction. By expanding the U.S. intellectual tradition of urban discourse to include voices of otherwise underrepresented classes, races, genders, and genres, Jamin’s The Sociable City concludes by emphasizing the significance of understanding the importance of urban sociality. He writes, “Taking urban sociality more seriously matters because . . . , a society’s decisions about what kinds of relationships and interpersonal emotions matter determine the types of cities it builds and the kinds of opportunities those cities afford to those who live in them” (160).
Overall, The Sociable City deepens the field’s understanding of early twentieth-century urban discourse while simultaneously emphasizing the vital role that literature and literacy play in shaping the social and physical ecologies of contemporary and future cities. With this broadening of sources for understanding the history and significance of urban discourse, The Sociable City urges students and scholars, city dwellers and city builders, to seek out and engage with diverse urban ideologies in order to build, rebuild, and maintain the types of sociable cities that society depends on.