Rapid and drastic changes in cultural values and behaviors touched nearly every aspect of American life in the twentieth century. Conduct, behavioral, advice, and etiquette literature reveal how society grappled with these changes.
Twentieth Century Advice Literature: North American Guides on Race, Sex, Gender, and the Family will contain more than 150,000 pages of text.
Items such as How to Get Along with Black People: A Handbook for White Folks and Some Black Folks Too (1940), and Art of Living: Etiquette for the Permissive Age (1972) give students and researchers deep insights into shifting attitudes and values over time.
These sorts of materials typically fell out of date quickly and were rarely collected or preserved by libraries. Much of the content was distributed by organizations only to their members and was never cataloged. Alexander Street is painstakingly collecting the literature from archives and academics around the country, with more than a third of the items in the database classified as ephemeral.
Twentieth Century Advice Literature will focus on gender roles and relations, American consumerism, views of democratic citizenship, character development for children, changes in reaction to each major war (including World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam), class relations, and adjustments to new technology (such as proper manners when using one’s new telephone, point-and-shoot camera, or e-mail).
Scholars of American history, cultural studies, gender studies, literature, psychology, sociology, language, and linguistics will find a wealth of insights into the way Americans have behaved, spoken, and interacted over time. In plain language that is accessible to undergraduates and scholars, advice literature gives us detailed, contemporaneous accounts of rules and guidelines in place and time, along with the underpinning reasons and justifications—how people actually behaved compared with the dictates of how they ought to behave. The content is often illustrated and can transport users, conveying the feeling of the decade by allowing them to watch and read as did people of the day.
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