Friday, February 20, 2009

The Gilded Age -Introduction

Hi! Welcome to my blog about the Gilded Age. This is a research focused blog regarding the period in American History from approximately post Civil War to about 1910 with a particular focus on New York City. My intent is to post twice a week about some aspect of this period. My focus will be on history, economics, arts and daily life. In short, everything and anything to do with the period that I find interesting.

First some background about this era. The term "Gilded Age" was first coined by Mark Twain in his book of the same title: The Gilded Age. The term "Gilded Age" originally meant to be satiric has taken in a life of its own to mean an era of luxury and greed that glosses over the poverty and filth it gilds. I have heard it said, up until last year some time, we were in fact living in a Gilded Age of our own, our own era being referred to as a "Second Gilded Age." My posts will be about the first Gilded Age.

Whenever we think of this period, our minds our flooded with images of wealth, mansions, beautiful dresses, and robber barons. We think of such people as Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Astors, etc., Because these people lived and worked in New York City, it seems appropriate for me to focus a great deal of attention on what was going on in New York City at that time.

If one starts doing historical research in this era, one quickly finds a sort of divided view of the time period. This is appropriate since the term itself was meant to be satirical rather than descriptive. Current (by "current" I mean within the last thirty years) historians are quick to point out the social injustices of the era which were many and included the formation of "Jim Crow," the exploitation of the working classes, labor unrest, banking and financial disasters, etc, etc., While all this is true, it is also a fact that this is a period of American history that saw an almost unprecedented rise of wealth and a tremendous upward mobility among the sons and daughters of the immigrant working class. The famous Newport Mansions (ironically called "cottages") could not have existed without cheap labor and a robber baron mentality. But they do exist and their achievement in art and architecture is not negated by their owner's unfair labor practices, which were quite quite typical of the time.

I will do my best to try to stay as close a factual representation of this period and avoid a judgemental stance so common among educated types when looking back on a time period not their own.

Next Up: Cornelius Vanderbilt

Then: Food in the Houses of the Rich and Wealthy

Sources for this post:

The Gilded Age A History in Documents by Janett Thomas Greenwood -a good overview of the era, but as always with Wikipedia, you get what you pay for! I find Wikipedia to be a good starting point and their links lead to other reseach that may be of interest.