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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: People: Assimilation and the Crucible of the City
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: People
Text 1. The American Metropolis
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Text 2. Coney Island
Text 3. Horatio Alger, Jr., Ragged Dick
Text 4. Lewis W. Hine photographs
Text 5. Jacob Riis, How the Other Lives
Text 6. Anzia Yezierska, Russians
Text 7. Two Wives
Text 8. Lee Chew, The Biography of a Chinaman
Text 9. Exclusion
Text 10. Zitkala-Sa, Native Americans

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
George Bellows, New York
Bellows, New York
The American Metropolis
- "State Street, Chicago," photograph, 1905
- George Bellows, New York, oil on canvas, 1911 Discussing Art

The World's Fair that so disturbed Henry Adams was also known as the White City. Its chief planner Daniel H. Burnham had carefully laid it out as an ideal. It stood as a model—a new, disciplined, ordered urban world that rebuked messy chaotic cities, like Chicago, which lay just beyond its gates. During this period cities became larger and more complex by the month as people flooded into them from rural and small-town America and from abroad. In time the largest among them, New York and Chicago, became something new in America—great cities, metropolises.

The images offered here suggest something of the nature of that transformation and what it meant to urban dwellers. The photograph of State Street in Chicago is by photographer Carleton H. Graves, whose company produced hundreds of stereographic images for popular entertainment. The painting New York is by George Bellows (1882-1925). Born in Columbus, Ohio, he attended Ohio State University. In 1904 he left the University without a degree to study art in New York. There he became a pupil of Robert Henri, who imparted to his students the belief that art must connect with harsh reality of city life. His students learned that lesson well and went on to create what later became known as the "Ashcan School." According to critic Robert Hughes, Bellows paintings display the "charm of ebullience and vulgarity." His depictions of New York, especially of the crowded streets of lower Manhattan, "celebrated . . . [Theodore] Roosevelt's 'strenuous life' (see EMPIRE) in a big-boned, muscular America." A comparison of these works could provoke among your students a profitable discussion on the differences between photography and painting. 1 page.

Discussion questions
  1. What is the relationship between the people and the buildings in each work?
  2. How are the crowds portrayed?
  3. How does each work convey a sense of movement?
  4. What does this sense of movement suggest?
  5. How does Bellows use lighting in New York?
  6. What is Bellows' judgment of the city?
  7. What do these images suggest about the scale and scope of the city?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was the American cultural mainstream defined at this time?
  •  What messages and strategies of socialization did the government and other culture brokers extend to immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans during this period?
  •  What benefits and costs for these groups were associated with a strategy of assimilation?
  •  How did the city function as a site of assimilation?

George Bellows (American 1882-1925), New York, 1911. Oil on canvas, 42 x 60 in. (106.7 x 152.4 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon: 1986.72.1. Permission pending.

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