The Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture focuses on the study of "modern" America from its inception in the nineteenth century to the opening decades of the twenty-first century. This wide chronological expanse offers scholars an opportunity to delve into key issues in American society, such as race, ethnicity, and global migration, as well as the role of the suburbs, the exurbs, and the importance of nationhood, citizenship, identifications, and more. The seminars examine what constitutes a society or culture and what divides it, from the Civil Rights era to the Gilded Age to the cyberworld.

 

Most seminar meetings revolve around the discussion of a pre-circulated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. Each session is followed by a reception with light refreshments.

 

Attendance is free and open to everyone. Subscribers who remit $25 for the year will receive early online access to any pre-circulated materials. Subscriptions also underwrite the cost of the series. Pre-circulated materials will be available to non-subscribers who have RSVP’d for a session on the day prior to the program. Subscribe to this seminar series and you will receive access to the seminar papers for SIX series: the Boston Seminar on African American History, the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar, the Boston Seminar on Environmental History, the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, & Sexuality, the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture, and our new Seminar on Digital History. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these four fields; now, mix and match the seminars that you attend!

 

Join the mailing list today by emailing seminars@masshist.org.

 

Join us for an in-depth exploration of the latest scholarship. Subscribe

September

Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Fifty Shades of Green: Sexing Economics 24 September 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Bethany Moreton, Dartmouth College Nancy Cott, Harvard University From the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship to the Chicago School, thinkers on the Right ...

From the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship to the Chicago School, thinkers on the Right have vigorously theorized the foundational connections between sexual and economic ideologies, even while self-identified partisans of labor democracy scold radicals for “trying to persuade people on the left that gay issues, black issues, feminist issues and so on are all really about capitalism.” What happens when we consider economic “science” as a chapter in the history of sexuality?

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October
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020//masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Sesame Street and the Cultural Politics of the Spoken Word in the 1970s 29 October 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Kathryn Ostrofsky, Freelance Historian Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Sesame Street’s creators, audiences, and social activists all tried to use the popular ...

Sesame Street’s creators, audiences, and social activists all tried to use the popular television program as a tool to shape American society. The resulting discussions reveal that the sound of the spoken word played an important role in media representations of culture and community. People contested the messages conveyed by working-class accents, African American slang, and the Spanish language as they encouraged Sesame Street to embody Great Society liberalism or to engender a pluralistic society.

More
November
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020//masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Navigating Colonial, Racial, and Indigenous Histories on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail 26 November 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Laura Barraclough, Yale University Maria John, University of Massachusetts - Boston Launched by Congress in 1978, the National Historic Trail (NHT) system recognizes historic travel ...

Launched by Congress in 1978, the National Historic Trail (NHT) system recognizes historic travel routes that contributed to the making of the United States. This paper examines the collision of colonial, racial, and indigenous histories on the Juan Bautista de Anza NHT, which commemorates the 1775-76 expedition of Mexican settlers from Sonora to San Francisco. While the Anza NHT has been empowering to contemporary Mexican Americans, it struggles to fairly represent the layered impacts of Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. colonization on the region’s Native peoples.

More
January
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Genetown: The Urbanization of the Boston Area Biotechnology Industry 28 January 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Robin Wolfe Scheffler, MIT Comment: Lizbeth Cohen, Harvard University Today, the Boston area hosts the densest cluster of biotechnology firms anywhere in the world. Yet ...

Today, the Boston area hosts the densest cluster of biotechnology firms anywhere in the world. Yet in the 1980s, the rapid concentration of the industry within Boston’s urban neighborhoods was a striking contrast to the suburbanization of high technology research and development a generation before. This remarkable urbanization represented the confluence of the labor and financial challenges faced by biotechnology start-ups with decisions regarding municipal governance and redevelopment in the aftermath of deindustrialization.

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February
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Difference the Nineteenth Amendment Made: Southern Black Women and the Reconstruction of American Politics 25 February 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Liette Gidlow, Wayne State University Susan Ware, Schlesinger Library Many scholars have argued that though the enfranchisement of women was laudable, not much changed ...

Many scholars have argued that though the enfranchisement of women was laudable, not much changed after women got the vote: the suffrage coalition splintered, women’s voter turnout was low, and the progressive reforms promised by suffragists failed to materialize. This interpretation, however, does not fully account for the activities of aspiring African American women voters in the Jim Crow South at the time or more broadly across the U.S. in the decades since. This paper argues that southern Black women’s efforts to vote, successful and otherwise, transformed not only the mid-century Black freedom struggle but political parties, election procedures, and social movements on the right and the left.

More
March
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Pacific Railroads and the Pacific Ocean: American Expansion, Asian Trade, and Terraqueous Mobility, 1869–1914 31 March 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Sean Fraga, Princeton University Comment: David Armitage, Harvard University The transcontinental railroads reshaped the United States—its politics, economy, culture and ...

The transcontinental railroads reshaped the United States—its politics, economy, culture and environment. But as this talk argues, late-nineteenth-century Americans also saw these railroads in global terms, as commercial infrastructure that could link the United States with Asia and the Pacific World. This paper recovers the excitement many nineteenth-century white Americans felt about trade with Asia and shows how interest in Asian trade was woven into the transcontinental railroads from their very beginnings.

More
April
Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley and the Birth of a Manhattan Mass Culture 28 April 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Samuel Ehrlich Backer, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Jeff Melnick, University of Massachusetts Boston During late 19th century, the upstart firms of Tin Pan Alley developed a revolutionary approach to ...

During late 19th century, the upstart firms of Tin Pan Alley developed a revolutionary approach to publishing, constructing a system able to sell sheet-music at a previously unimaginable rate. Relying heavily on New York’s importance to national performance networks to disseminate their songs, Tin Pan Alley was defined by the tension between publishers’ attempts to create universally accessible commodities, and the fast-moving, alcohol-drenched, urban environments in which their products were required to thrive.

More
More events
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Fifty Shades of Green: Sexing Economics 24 September 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Bethany Moreton, Dartmouth College Nancy Cott, Harvard University Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg

From the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship to the Chicago School, thinkers on the Right have vigorously theorized the foundational connections between sexual and economic ideologies, even while self-identified partisans of labor democracy scold radicals for “trying to persuade people on the left that gay issues, black issues, feminist issues and so on are all really about capitalism.” What happens when we consider economic “science” as a chapter in the history of sexuality?

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Sesame Street and the Cultural Politics of the Spoken Word in the 1970s 29 October 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Kathryn Ostrofsky, Freelance Historian Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020//masc_banner.jpg

Sesame Street’s creators, audiences, and social activists all tried to use the popular television program as a tool to shape American society. The resulting discussions reveal that the sound of the spoken word played an important role in media representations of culture and community. People contested the messages conveyed by working-class accents, African American slang, and the Spanish language as they encouraged Sesame Street to embody Great Society liberalism or to engender a pluralistic society.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Navigating Colonial, Racial, and Indigenous Histories on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail 26 November 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Laura Barraclough, Yale University Maria John, University of Massachusetts - Boston Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020//masc_banner.jpg

Launched by Congress in 1978, the National Historic Trail (NHT) system recognizes historic travel routes that contributed to the making of the United States. This paper examines the collision of colonial, racial, and indigenous histories on the Juan Bautista de Anza NHT, which commemorates the 1775-76 expedition of Mexican settlers from Sonora to San Francisco. While the Anza NHT has been empowering to contemporary Mexican Americans, it struggles to fairly represent the layered impacts of Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. colonization on the region’s Native peoples.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Genetown: The Urbanization of the Boston Area Biotechnology Industry registration required at no cost 28 January 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Robin Wolfe Scheffler, MIT Comment: Lizbeth Cohen, Harvard University Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg

Today, the Boston area hosts the densest cluster of biotechnology firms anywhere in the world. Yet in the 1980s, the rapid concentration of the industry within Boston’s urban neighborhoods was a striking contrast to the suburbanization of high technology research and development a generation before. This remarkable urbanization represented the confluence of the labor and financial challenges faced by biotechnology start-ups with decisions regarding municipal governance and redevelopment in the aftermath of deindustrialization.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Difference the Nineteenth Amendment Made: Southern Black Women and the Reconstruction of American Politics registration required at no cost 25 February 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Liette Gidlow, Wayne State University Susan Ware, Schlesinger Library Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg

Many scholars have argued that though the enfranchisement of women was laudable, not much changed after women got the vote: the suffrage coalition splintered, women’s voter turnout was low, and the progressive reforms promised by suffragists failed to materialize. This interpretation, however, does not fully account for the activities of aspiring African American women voters in the Jim Crow South at the time or more broadly across the U.S. in the decades since. This paper argues that southern Black women’s efforts to vote, successful and otherwise, transformed not only the mid-century Black freedom struggle but political parties, election procedures, and social movements on the right and the left.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Pacific Railroads and the Pacific Ocean: American Expansion, Asian Trade, and Terraqueous Mobility, 1869–1914 registration required at no cost 31 March 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Sean Fraga, Princeton University Comment: David Armitage, Harvard University Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg

The transcontinental railroads reshaped the United States—its politics, economy, culture and environment. But as this talk argues, late-nineteenth-century Americans also saw these railroads in global terms, as commercial infrastructure that could link the United States with Asia and the Pacific World. This paper recovers the excitement many nineteenth-century white Americans felt about trade with Asia and shows how interest in Asian trade was woven into the transcontinental railroads from their very beginnings.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley and the Birth of a Manhattan Mass Culture registration required at no cost 28 April 2020.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Samuel Ehrlich Backer, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Jeff Melnick, University of Massachusetts Boston Image entitled /2012/juniper/assets/section37/Seminar_2019-2020/masc_banner.jpg

During late 19th century, the upstart firms of Tin Pan Alley developed a revolutionary approach to publishing, constructing a system able to sell sheet-music at a previously unimaginable rate. Relying heavily on New York’s importance to national performance networks to disseminate their songs, Tin Pan Alley was defined by the tension between publishers’ attempts to create universally accessible commodities, and the fast-moving, alcohol-drenched, urban environments in which their products were required to thrive.

close