Download the 2018-2019 schedule here!

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.

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 FOUR series: the Boston Seminar on African American History, the Boston Area Seminar on Early American History, the Boston Seminar on Environmental History, and the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these four 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 Radical Nonviolence and Interracial Utopias in the Early Civil Rights Movement 25 September 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Wolcott, State University of New York at Buffalo Comment: Jason Sokol, University of New Hampshire This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial ...

This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial segregation and inequality in the United States. These activists adopted the methods of earlier utopian communities by living communally and practicing a prefigurative politics that called for immediate change.

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

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October
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Governing the “Black Power” City: Leon H. Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., and the Rise of Black Empowerment 30 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Jessica Ann Levy, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Julia Rabig, Dartmouth College This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding ...

This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding in North Philadelphia to one of the largest black community development programs in the United States. In doing so, it sheds new light on the financial and intellectual investments made by American business, government bureaucrats, and civil rights entrepreneurs like Sullivan in transforming black dissidents into “productive citizens,” “productive” having economic and civic connotations.

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

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November
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar In Search of the Costs of Segregation 27 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, University of Massachusetts Lowell Comment: Kenneth W. Mack, Harvard Law School Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African ...

Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African Americans went, whether they voted, and how they acted. Yet it was also an economic system that imposed financial burdens. This paper explores how segregation made the activities undertaken by African Americans—from gaining education to property—more expensive for them and how it excluded them from economic advancement.

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

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January
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969 29 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Comment: Heather Hendershot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II ...

Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would foundations or federal agencies use screen media to strengthen participatory democracy and local control or to undermine it? Was screen media a neutral technology? This paper argues that educational technology foundered or flourished not solely on the merits of its pedagogical utility, but also as a result of changing ideas about the relationship between citizenship and pictorial screen media.

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

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February
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Our Own Orient: Mecca, California, and Dates 26 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Eleanor Daly Finnegan, Harvard University Comment: Laura Barraclough, Yale University Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the ...

Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the exoticism of the Middle East to sell dates. This paper will focus on Mecca, California and the Indio Date Festival, looking at the complicated ways in which Orientalism has changed in the United States, its relationship to consumerism, and the economic connections made to the Middle East.

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

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March
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel: Carceral Culture 26 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Melanie D. Newport, University of Connecticut—Hartford, and Morgan Jane Shahan, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, ...

This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, “‘Making Good’: On Parole in Early 20th Century Illinois,” traces the experience of ex-prisoners, and exposes the negotiations between employers, voluntary organizations, prisons, and parolees. Melanie Newport’s chapter, “‘I’m Afraid of Cook County Jail’: Making Space for Women in Chicago’s Jails,” addresses how women both inside and outside Cook County jail contested the plan to double the jail’s capacity in the 1970s.

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

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April
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Boston’s North End: Post-World War II Italian Immigration, Segmented Assimilation, and the “Problem of Cornerville” 23 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required James Pasto, Boston University Comment: Marilynn Johnson, Boston College This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of ...

This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of segmented assimilation. Depending on age, gender, parental style, and opportunity, some immigrants assimilated “downward” into the Italian American street culture of the neighborhood, becoming more susceptible to the drug abuse and violence of the ‘70s and ‘80s, while others assimilated “upward” into a new Italian identity tied to the North End’s gentrification as an Italian neighborhood.

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

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More events
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Radical Nonviolence and Interracial Utopias in the Early Civil Rights Movement 25 September 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Wolcott, State University of New York at Buffalo Comment: Jason Sokol, University of New Hampshire

This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial segregation and inequality in the United States. These activists adopted the methods of earlier utopian communities by living communally and practicing a prefigurative politics that called for immediate change.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Governing the “Black Power” City: Leon H. Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., and the Rise of Black Empowerment Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 30 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jessica Ann Levy, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Julia Rabig, Dartmouth College

This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding in North Philadelphia to one of the largest black community development programs in the United States. In doing so, it sheds new light on the financial and intellectual investments made by American business, government bureaucrats, and civil rights entrepreneurs like Sullivan in transforming black dissidents into “productive citizens,” “productive” having economic and civic connotations.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar In Search of the Costs of Segregation Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 27 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, University of Massachusetts Lowell Comment: Kenneth W. Mack, Harvard Law School

Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African Americans went, whether they voted, and how they acted. Yet it was also an economic system that imposed financial burdens. This paper explores how segregation made the activities undertaken by African Americans—from gaining education to property—more expensive for them and how it excluded them from economic advancement.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969 Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 29 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Comment: Heather Hendershot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would foundations or federal agencies use screen media to strengthen participatory democracy and local control or to undermine it? Was screen media a neutral technology? This paper argues that educational technology foundered or flourished not solely on the merits of its pedagogical utility, but also as a result of changing ideas about the relationship between citizenship and pictorial screen media.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Our Own Orient: Mecca, California, and Dates Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 26 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Eleanor Daly Finnegan, Harvard University Comment: Laura Barraclough, Yale University

Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the exoticism of the Middle East to sell dates. This paper will focus on Mecca, California and the Indio Date Festival, looking at the complicated ways in which Orientalism has changed in the United States, its relationship to consumerism, and the economic connections made to the Middle East.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel: Carceral Culture Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 26 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Melanie D. Newport, University of Connecticut—Hartford, and Morgan Jane Shahan, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University

This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, “‘Making Good’: On Parole in Early 20th Century Illinois,” traces the experience of ex-prisoners, and exposes the negotiations between employers, voluntary organizations, prisons, and parolees. Melanie Newport’s chapter, “‘I’m Afraid of Cook County Jail’: Making Space for Women in Chicago’s Jails,” addresses how women both inside and outside Cook County jail contested the plan to double the jail’s capacity in the 1970s.

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

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Boston’s North End: Post-World War II Italian Immigration, Segmented Assimilation, and the “Problem of Cornerville” Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 23 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM James Pasto, Boston University Comment: Marilynn Johnson, Boston College

This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of segmented assimilation. Depending on age, gender, parental style, and opportunity, some immigrants assimilated “downward” into the Italian American street culture of the neighborhood, becoming more susceptible to the drug abuse and violence of the ‘70s and ‘80s, while others assimilated “upward” into a new Italian identity tied to the North End’s gentrification as an Italian neighborhood.

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

close