The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870–1912 | National Humanities Center

Primary Source Guides

The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870–1912

Made possible in part by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

Vintage poster of the Brooklyn Bridge with the word 'Excelsior' on it
Lithograph celebrating the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870–1912” is an open educational resource that delves into the pivotal period in American history spanning from 1870 to 1912. This primary source guide is organized into five sub-topics and each section contains a vast collection of primary source materials including historical documents, literary texts, and works of art which have been contextualized with annotations and notes, and feature a set of discussion questions for classroom use.


  • Examines how Americans reflected on their past and future in the aftermath of the Civil War.
  • Explores efforts to promote national reconciliation during this era.
  • Investigates the reconceptualization of national identity during this transformative period.


  • Defines how Americans of this era understood and defined progress.
  • Explores the meaning and significance of progress in the context of this period.


  • Analyzes the definition of the American cultural mainstream during this time.
  • Examines the messages and socialization strategies employed by the government and cultural institutions toward immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans.
  • Considers the benefits and costs associated with strategies of assimilation and how cities played a role in this process.


  • Explores how Americans responded to shifts in economic and political power that occurred during this period.


  • Investigates how the West was incorporated into the nation.
  • Examines how Americans responded to the changing role of the United States in world affairs during this era.
  • Considers how domestic issues and concerns influenced American policies and actions abroad.
  • Explores how America projected its power beyond its own borders, reflecting on the concept of American empire.

This educational resource provides a comprehensive examination of the social, cultural, economic, and political changes that shaped America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It invites readers to explore the multifaceted aspects of this transformative period in American history.

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History / American History / Gilded Age / United States of America /


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