Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

Investigating Americanness


"Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually underprivileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by."

Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (1935)

"As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own."

Margaret Mead in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

In the Twenties, increasing wealth and education created a new group of intellectuals and scholars who focused their attention on the study of the United States and on the definition of the term "American."

The American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association had formed at the beginning of the century, but in the 1920s these fields rose into a new respectability and, in some cases, predominance in both academia and business. The Social Science Research Council was founded in 1922 to facilitate cooperation between a variety of institutions and organizations. Americans were busy studying their own society and increasingly began studying other cultures as well.

American literature also emerged as a discipline, encouraging scholars to rediscover seminal writers of the American Renaissance, uniting the renewed interest in American literature and the quest to define the American character.

Photograph of children and baby
Photograph of children and baby
Jno P. Trlica

Jno P. Trlica was a Czech photographer and community leader in Granger, Texas. These studio portraits of Czech, African-American, and Hispanic area residents, reflect the diversity of the small Texas town during the 1920s.

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