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. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper.

 

There will be seven sessions in the 2017-2018 series. Download, print, and circulate the series calendar!

 

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 Monday prior to the program. Subscribe to this seminar series and you will receive access to the seminar papers for THREE series: the Boston Area Early American History Seminar, the Boston Environmental History Seminar, and the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these three fields; now, mix and match the seminars that you attend!

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

September

Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Lost Cities of Chicago's South Side 26 September 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Carlo Rotella, Boston College Comment: Samuel Zipp, Brown University Any city is composed of many layers, including superseded and could-have-been versions of itself: ...

Any city is composed of many layers, including superseded and could-have-been versions of itself: lost cities. This essay is drawn from Rotella’s current book project on South Shore, a neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. Over the past half-century, the area has gradually shifted toward a class system of haves and have-nots separated by an increasing divide. Its fallen orders, which include factory complexes and ethnic urban villages, nevertheless exert a persistent pull today.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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October
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Allaying Terror: Domesticating Artisan Refugees in South Vietnam, 1956 24 October 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Jennifer Way, University of North Texas Comment: Robert Lee, Brown University This essay explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English ...

This essay explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English-language mass print media. These images served as an extension of American economic diplomacy. They aimed at resettling and domesticating the refugees while diminishing white American middle-class anxieties about the potential spread of communism in South Vietnam, a place Sen. John F. Kennedy pronounced “the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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November
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel Discussion: Volunteerism and Civil Society in the Twentieth Century 28 November 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required K. Ian Shin, Bates College, and Chris Staysniak, Boston College Comment: Timothy Neary, Salve Regina University This panel considers volunteerism as sponsored by ethnic and service organizations. Both essays ...

This panel considers volunteerism as sponsored by ethnic and service organizations. Both essays challenge our notions of “belonging” in a civil society, including our understandings of assimilation, activism, and protest. Shin’s paper is “Lions, Scouts, and Legionnaires: Voluntary Associations and the Making of Chinese American Civil Society, 1900-1945.” Staysniak’s essay is “Poverty Warriors, Service Learners, and a Nationwide Movement: Youth Volunteer Service, 1964-1973.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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January
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar “Momentum Toward Evil is Strong”: Poor Women, Moral Panics, and the Rise of Crime-Fighting Policing in Depression-Era America 30 January 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Anne Gray Fischer, Brown University Comment: Michael Willrich, Brandeis University Between Prohibition and World War II, American law enforcement went from being seen as a brutal and ...

Between Prohibition and World War II, American law enforcement went from being seen as a brutal and incompetent political liability to a professional crime-fighting regime. This essay explores the dramatic shift in public perception by studying the changing practices of Depression-era morality policing in Boston and Los Angeles—specifically, the police enforcement of morals misdemeanors, including vagrancy, disorderly conduct, lewdness, and prostitution, which disproportionately targeted poor women on city streets.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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February
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel Discussion: Capitalism and Culture 27 February 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Jonathan Cohen, University of Virginia, and Davor Mondom, Syracuse University Comment: Sven Beckert, Harvard University This panel examines the reaction against welfare state capitalism in the mid-20th century U.S., ...

This panel examines the reaction against welfare state capitalism in the mid-20th century U.S., looking at two companies that promoted themselves as bastions of free enterprise or as a solution to high state taxes. Mondom’s paper is “Capitalism with a Human Face: Amway, Direct Sales, and the Redemption of Free Enterprise.” Cohen’s essay is titled “Rivers of Gold: Scientific Games and the Spread of State Lotteries, 1980-1984.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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March
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar La Villanía Arizoniana: Disenfranchisement, Citizenship, and Defining the Body Politic in the Early Twentieth Century US-Mexico Borderlands 27 March 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College Comment: Alex Keyssar, Harvard Kennedy School In 1909 and 1912, the Arizona legislature enacted requirements that all voters be literate in ...

In 1909 and 1912, the Arizona legislature enacted requirements that all voters be literate in English, sparking a storm of multilingual protests in the papers and the courts. How and why Anglo-Arizonans took the right to vote from thousands of Mexican-American men and how Spanish-speakers fought back shows how conflicting views of race and ethnicity have influenced citizenship in the U.S.’s southwestern borderlands.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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April
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Creepy Crawling in Los Angeles: the Manson Family and Cultural Mixing as Apocalypse 24 April 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Jeffrey Melnick, UMass-Boston Comment: Gretchen Heefner, Northeastern University Charles Manson made national news in 1969 when several “Family” members were arrested ...

Charles Manson made national news in 1969 when several “Family” members were arrested for murder, but by then he was well-established in Los Angeles. This paper explores the cultural fluidity that allowed Los Angeles’s hip aristocracy to mingle with marginal figures like Manson, but also the backlash which turned the Manson Family into a warning for the dangers of migration and the promiscuous cultural mixing that could follow.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
More events
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Lost Cities of Chicago's South Side 26 September 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Carlo Rotella, Boston College Comment: Samuel Zipp, Brown University

Any city is composed of many layers, including superseded and could-have-been versions of itself: lost cities. This essay is drawn from Rotella’s current book project on South Shore, a neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. Over the past half-century, the area has gradually shifted toward a class system of haves and have-nots separated by an increasing divide. Its fallen orders, which include factory complexes and ethnic urban villages, nevertheless exert a persistent pull today.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Allaying Terror: Domesticating Artisan Refugees in South Vietnam, 1956 Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 24 October 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jennifer Way, University of North Texas Comment: Robert Lee, Brown University

This essay explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English-language mass print media. These images served as an extension of American economic diplomacy. They aimed at resettling and domesticating the refugees while diminishing white American middle-class anxieties about the potential spread of communism in South Vietnam, a place Sen. John F. Kennedy pronounced “the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel Discussion: Volunteerism and Civil Society in the Twentieth Century Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 28 November 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM K. Ian Shin, Bates College, and Chris Staysniak, Boston College Comment: Timothy Neary, Salve Regina University

This panel considers volunteerism as sponsored by ethnic and service organizations. Both essays challenge our notions of “belonging” in a civil society, including our understandings of assimilation, activism, and protest. Shin’s paper is “Lions, Scouts, and Legionnaires: Voluntary Associations and the Making of Chinese American Civil Society, 1900-1945.” Staysniak’s essay is “Poverty Warriors, Service Learners, and a Nationwide Movement: Youth Volunteer Service, 1964-1973.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar “Momentum Toward Evil is Strong”: Poor Women, Moral Panics, and the Rise of Crime-Fighting Policing in Depression-Era America Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 30 January 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Anne Gray Fischer, Brown University Comment: Michael Willrich, Brandeis University

Between Prohibition and World War II, American law enforcement went from being seen as a brutal and incompetent political liability to a professional crime-fighting regime. This essay explores the dramatic shift in public perception by studying the changing practices of Depression-era morality policing in Boston and Los Angeles—specifically, the police enforcement of morals misdemeanors, including vagrancy, disorderly conduct, lewdness, and prostitution, which disproportionately targeted poor women on city streets.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel Discussion: Capitalism and Culture Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 27 February 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jonathan Cohen, University of Virginia, and Davor Mondom, Syracuse University Comment: Sven Beckert, Harvard University

This panel examines the reaction against welfare state capitalism in the mid-20th century U.S., looking at two companies that promoted themselves as bastions of free enterprise or as a solution to high state taxes. Mondom’s paper is “Capitalism with a Human Face: Amway, Direct Sales, and the Redemption of Free Enterprise.” Cohen’s essay is titled “Rivers of Gold: Scientific Games and the Spread of State Lotteries, 1980-1984.”

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar La Villanía Arizoniana: Disenfranchisement, Citizenship, and Defining the Body Politic in the Early Twentieth Century US-Mexico Borderlands Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 27 March 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College Comment: Alex Keyssar, Harvard Kennedy School

In 1909 and 1912, the Arizona legislature enacted requirements that all voters be literate in English, sparking a storm of multilingual protests in the papers and the courts. How and why Anglo-Arizonans took the right to vote from thousands of Mexican-American men and how Spanish-speakers fought back shows how conflicting views of race and ethnicity have influenced citizenship in the U.S.’s southwestern borderlands.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Creepy Crawling in Los Angeles: the Manson Family and Cultural Mixing as Apocalypse Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 24 April 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jeffrey Melnick, UMass-Boston Comment: Gretchen Heefner, Northeastern University

Charles Manson made national news in 1969 when several “Family” members were arrested for murder, but by then he was well-established in Los Angeles. This paper explores the cultural fluidity that allowed Los Angeles’s hip aristocracy to mingle with marginal figures like Manson, but also the backlash which turned the Manson Family into a warning for the dangers of migration and the promiscuous cultural mixing that could follow.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close