• Gordon, Linda. Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence–Boston, 1880-1960. Reprint edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
  • Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
  • Rodgers, Daniel T. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2000.

This week’s readings address reform efforts on both a grand and specific scale. Atlantic Crossings gives a wide sweeping analysis of progressive policy in a trans-Atlantic framework during the time between Reconstruction and WWII. Additionally, Gordon’s text explores that time frame but instead, she offers a case study of Boston regarding family violence and social work. Finally, Larson’s text shifts the discussion of specific reform policies towards the Scopes Trial and the debate between scientific progress and fundamentalist Christianity.

Rodgers’ Atlantic Crossing is a text with a a grand argument regarding the Progressive era. In part, his argument focuses around American exceptionalism, or really the lack of it, during this time period and the way it fostered trans-Atlantic coloboration regarding social reform. Furthermore, this trans-Atlantic focus is not meant to be synchonric in the sense of highlighting difference but rather Rodgers wants to articulate the similarities and “trace the proposals and policies that the cosmopolitan progressives tried to carry over the Atlantic network”[ ]. Rodgers notes that the United States lagged behind in social policies during the late nineteenth and beginning decades of the twentieth centuries. The U.S. “took more” from Europe that it was able to provide. However, Fordism and WWI shifted this as the United States was able to provide more for European markets. Additionally, Rodgers notes that the progressives struggled at various points to implement their agenda but saw the culmination of their work in FDR’s New Deal. Reforms in housing, farming, social insurace, etc. came to fruition during that time period. Post-WWII, Rodgers argues, was the end of this age of collaboration or cosmopolitanism as the economic growth and prosperity after the war led America back to an ideology of exceptionalism. Important theme is the notion that not everything belonged in the market or as Rodger’s calls it “de-commodification.” It’s purpose was to protect the worker from the harshness of capitalism. Additionally, Rodgers makes the note that while American exceptionalism was diminished during this time period, the uniqueness of American society still provided issues to implementing social programs adopted from Europe (the courts and other federal systems).

Linda Gordon’s monograph, Heroes of the Own Lives, drops the reader into Boston during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gordon’s text can be classified as a large scale case study thus it borders on quantitative history. She begins her monograph noting how the lack of historical work and foundation drastically impacts the public discussion of family violence. Thus, her text is largely filling a void in the historical work regarding families during this time period. She argues that family violence has been historically and politically constructed and that this violence cannot be understood outside the context of the overall politics of the family. Her text is a mix of chronologically focused chapters and thematic chapter, which can cause some confusion but that is minimal. Gordon traces the development of child protectors from the moralistic socially elite organizations of the late nineteenth century, through the professionalization, focus on casework, rise of and change of child neglect, to the 60s and 70s when child abuse was highly medicalized and such issues as wife-beating and incest were no longer hidden in the background. An important theme throughout the text are power relations and patriarchy. Gordon does an excellent job articulating the various ways that women were subjected to double standards based in patriarchy and how women were able to obtain power through these child protection agencies. One very important contribution to the field is the way that Gordon is able to engage with langauge and categories within these child welfare agencies. Discussing the various forms of child abuse vs. neglect, the impact of moral and physical abuse aids in her discussion of class, gender, and power relations.

Larson’s text, Summer of the Gods, moves us into the middle of an ongoing debatein the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He divides the text into three section (Before.., …During…, …And After) thus allowing him to trace the build up and legacy of the trial. The text is largely narrative history regarding William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, and the events of the trial. Adding the history of the ACLU, progression of science, formation of The Fundamentals, and co-opting of the trials legacy to combat McCarthyism, Larson is able to weave in important themes to enhance the story. One theme in particular that Larson returns to is Bryan’s motivation for opposing the theory of evoluton being taught in schools. Larson quotes Bryan in 1923 stating “Teachers in public schools must teach what the taxpayers desire taught…The hand that writes the pay check rules the school.” Bryan was no fundamentalist but he strictly adhered to majoritarianism and opposed individual rights (He even argued that “No concession can be made to the minority in this country without a surrender of the fundamental principle of popular rule.”) [45]. By noting this theme in Bryan and its prevalance elsewhere, Larson posits the Bryan v. Darrow as a question of majoritarianism v. individual rights. Additionally, while the trial ended with no clear victor, Larson illustrates how two important popular culture peices revived the Scopes Trial story and crated it into a narrative of opposition to the rigid old way (fundamentalism). Both Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen Twenties and Inherit the Wind molded the history of SCopes into something that is not historically accurate or informative.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would each author define “Reform” in the same way? How would they differ?
  2. How is power being constructed/deconstructed in each text?
  3. How do these texts talk to eachother regarding the reform efforts in each?
  4. How does langauge/categorical definitions figure into each text? Similarly? Different?

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