Lecture, Open—Spring

The period l9l9-l920 saw the eruption of numerous civil disorders: riots, strikes, new social and cultural movements, and new political parties. New patterns of production and consumption were also beginning. While all these were responses to long-established tendencies in economic life, in class and racial conflict, and in national liberation struggles, it is not a coincidence that so many appeared within a few months of each other. They stemmed from the disruption and trauma of the war, which transformed all existing trends in ways that reverberated throughout the interwar period and beyond. The goal of this course is to examine, from a global perspective, the possibilities for good and ill that were opened up. It is clear, for example, that the war disrupted major tendencies in the socialist and workers’ movements. The Russian Revolution and the rise of international communism marked a break with important parts of the traditional Left and seemed to some to have established a vital and exciting new kind of polity; to others, a frightening and aggressive new enemy of civilization. We will study the debates over the Soviet Union in light of these profound disagreements. It is also clear that the war meant new directions in world capitalism. One of the most significant was the unleashing of American economic power. We will study how developments in the US oil and automotive industries impinged on Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa in the search for petroleum and rubber. At the same time, we will learn how this economic buildup enabled capitalism to replicate itself through the creation of such industries as advertising, which took on a new vitality in this period. Its seductive images of individual desires and personal fulfillment permitted advertising both to both shadow and rival the collective movements that worked for social change. Conflict over social change occurred on many fronts. Movements of national liberation in the British Empire were now placed in the context of the gradual eclipse of British power, even as Britain emerged victorious from the war and as a major power in redrawing maps of many contested terrains. Against this background, we will look at British efforts to deal with popular aspirations in India, Ireland, and Palestine and with the outbursts of violence that often characterized state action in these matters. Other important subjects include the movements for gender and sex equality and justice for workers and African Americans, who had to face a long-running, 19th-century, social Darwinist ideology that the war had made only more toxic, as witness the reception given to returning black soldiers expecting a better life, the restrictions on US immigration, and the appeal of racism, anti-Semitism, and many other ethnic prejudices to wide sectors of opinion. In the field of sex and gender, new movements of protest and affirmation grew up, while old ones declined. The goal of women’s suffrage having been achieved, the suffragist style of feminism began to disappear along with its liberal, rationalist, and parliamentary values. The war had done much to destroy these movements in all parts of the political spectrum and had cleared the way for many new cultural phenomena, including fascism, artistic modernism, and the emergence of a new gay people’s consciousness, to name just a few. Cities such as Paris, New York, and Berlin offer case studies of the vibrant subcultures that flourished during these years. Course readings and topics will include: the John Dos Passos novel, 1919; Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio; Rudyard Kipling’s short story, Mary Postgate; Margaret McMillan’s Paris 1919 on the Treaty of Versailles; selections from Mein Kampf; literature on the steel strike of 1919 in the United States; the 1919 Amritsar Bazaar massacre in India; Pan-Africanism and American racial disturbances of that year and the responses of people such as Garvey and DuBois; the coming of the private automobile and its relationship to highway construction, suburbanization, and the onrush of the extractive industries into Liberia, for example, searching for cheap rubber; the rise of public relations and the “engineering of consent,” as it was called by a founder of modern advertising, and how it worked both in political propaganda and in the sale of commodities; and the emergence of new styles of sexual expression. For written work, students will select subjects from the syllabus and explore them more deeply in a few short essays, using extra reading in consultation with the instructor.