Last Monday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City returned to its “First Monday at May” tradition, or as it is commonly known: the Met Gala. Drawing media attention and fashionistas from around the world, the Gala is the annual fundraising event for the museum’s Costume Institute. What began as a modest dinner held outside of the museum in 1948, has turned in recent years into a mega publicity event that brings to the museum millions of dollars in donations.
As scholars who have long been immersed in this pivotal period, we were excited to learn of the lavishly produced HBO series The Gilded Age. With the exception of the fabulously successful feature film Titanic in 1997, ours is a historical period that is often overlooked in popular culture. So we were delighted when The Gilded Age generated advance reviews in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Washington Post. We hoped it would bring attention to the period we find so important in our history, especially for the light it can shed on present day problems and issues—both how they were created and how they might be remedied.
On March 18, 1907, an anonymous individual at the Fort Dodge, Iowa, city council meeting proposed an ordinance to tax all bachelors and spinsters residing in the town. The proposal, smuggled into a pile of legitimate business papers, required “all able bodied persons between the ages of 25 and 45 years, whose mental and physical propensities and capabilities are normal” to pay a tax of between 10 and 100 dollars: the longer they remained single, the more they would have to pay.
In my doctoral dissertation “Vox Machinae: Phonographs and the Birth of Sonic Modernity, 1877-1930,” I presented a cultural history of the early recording industry in close conversation with the so-called “New Materialisms.” Drawing on Science and Technology Studies (STS), phenomenological philosophy, and other strains of materialist literature, I sought to make sense of the ways in which machines and other material entities exercise agency over cultural processes. How, in other words, did the early phonograph itself—with its motor and governor and nuts and bolts and belts—shape how people responded to recorded sound?
historians. So when I came across a story of divorce and abandonment involving economist George Gunton, one of my research subjects, my work received some personal background that I didn’t expect. In piecing together newspaper reports and letters that George’s wife Amelia sent to Columbia University professor Edwin Seligman, I found out that Gunton had been illegally married to two women at the same time, deserting Amelia and leaving her nearly destitute.
My research is on the Princeton sociologist Walter Augustus Wyckoff. Readers may recall that Wycoff gained a fair amount of fame at the turn of the 20th century through the publication of his two-volume investigation, The Workers: The East and The Workers: The West (1897, 1898). My dissertation traces the connections between Wyckoff’s work and that of authors like Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Upton Sinclair. It is also the first biography of Wyckoff. I show that Wyckoff’s motivation to investigate the working class came from the influence of his “Third-Culture Kid” (TCK) upbringing, as the son of missionaries in India.