English 100

Junior Seminar: The Culture of Efficiency�Literature and Popular Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century America

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Spring 2008 McQuade, Donald
McQuade, Don
TTh 9:30-11 108 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Frederick Winslow Taylor: Principles of Scientific Management; Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur�s Court; Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward; Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt. A course reader will include selected prose from Thorsten Veblen; Henry Adams; John Dewey; John Dos Passos; as well as selections from Mary Pattison: The Business of Home Management; Henry Ford: My Philosophy of Industry; Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish; Robert Herrick: Waste; and selected poetry and prose from William Carlos Williams; along with advertisements, paintings, and photographs.


"This course will examine the origins and, more specifically, the cultural consequences of America's fascination with efficiency, with what has been called ""a secular Great Awakening, an outpouring of ideas and emotions in which a gospel of efficiency was preached without embarrassment"" to writers, workers, corporate executives, doctors, ""homemakers,"" teachers, as well as religious and political leaders. More particularly, we will study the impact of Frederick Winslow Taylor's principles of scientific management on early-twentieth-century American culture. Taylor 's principles, so influential in American corporate enterprise, also infiltrated the ways in which many Americans organized their domestic lives and managed their intellectual relations to the world around them. Such values as productivity, economy, immediacy, and functionalism were everywhere evident in American intellectual life and public discourse in the early decades of the twentieth century � from the debates over the first execution in the electric chair to the ""death"" of the essay as a literary form and its removal from the canon.

Our discussions will examine from theoretical perspectives the nature and the consequences of efficiency systems in everyday life � as reflected in, for example, product design, social behavior, and consumer affairs. We will also explore such issues as the creation of models of ""perfected bodily adjustment"" to ""modern times"" and the emergence of an ""engineering aesthetics"" in literature and literary criticism. We will also consider similar expressions in the arts, education, philosophy, and popular culture. In effect, the course will examine the ways in which a ""culture of efficiency"" emerged during the Progressive Era as Americans struggled to come to terms with what Harriet Monroe called ""the confusion of modern immensities"" and what William James described as ""a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations."" "

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