I just submitted my first entry for the collaborative Living New Deal Map Project. This very cool public history project maps New Deal agency works of art, public works projects, Civilian Conservation Corps. projects etc. all over the US. There are quite a few missing entries for Florida, including my first submission, Murphree Hall, on the University of Florida Campus. Built in 1939, Murphree Hall was a Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works Project.
In the context of the apparent closure of neoliberalism, I can think of no more profoundly humanist statement than “no mode of production and therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy, and human intention” (Williams 1978: 125). Raymond Williams’s comment, which he thought important enough to render in italics, is a powerful reminder to those of us who analyze culture that we must both attempt to interpret the present, with all the hazards that entails, and – even more precariously – anticipate the ways in which the future may yet answer back to it. This small essay is written in the spirit of that important goal. I will first give one narrative of the cultural dominant of intellectual life in the twentieth-century United States, and then offer some thoughts on alternatives that may yet emerge, especially in the wake of the financial disaster of 2008. Because I am interested in the cultural dominant, I will take examples not only from academic intellectuals, but also from popular literature, the arts, and ultimately, from experimental social movements.I will therefore necessarily be skimming over the surface of a great deal of complexity, but my hope is that my map will open up interesting places for others to explore. In particular, I am interested in tracing the fate of the “sociological imagination,” which, as C. Wright Mills wrote a half century ago, “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (1959: 5). It seems to me this sociological imagination was accessible in the early twentieth-century United States, and continues to be useful, if not crucial, in a moment like ours.
This post is about the artwork I’m using in the header of this blog. Currently, I’m working on a project on MACOS, or Man a Course of Study. MACOS was an innovative and lavishly-funded social studies curriculum that was created in the late 1960s and early 1970s US that emphasized anthropology and behavioral psychology. For a variety of complex reasons, it became the subject of a heated culture war, and was fairly quickly abandoned. Even more impressively, the controversy was sufficiently intense to effectively end similar such attempts to create major curricular reforms on the national scale.
The prints in my header were illustrations in a book in the MACOS curriculum called “This World We Know: Beliefs and Traditions of the Netsilik Eskimo,” collected by Knud Rasmussen. The illustrators were Leo and Diane Dillon, who would go on to win multiple Caldecott medals for their illustrations of children’s books, including the marvelous Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975). The Dillons, who worked collaboratively, are often acknowledged for having been pioneers in providing multiracial imagery for children’s book illustrations. For more info on them, see Leo Dillon’s NYT obituary.
Here are some of their illustrations from “This World We Know:”