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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: Progress: The Meaning of the Machine
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Progress
Text 1. Memory and Machines
Text 2. Brooklyn Bridge
» Reading Guide
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Text 3. Human Machines
Text 4. Christine Frederick
Text 5. Thomas Eakins
Text 6. Thomas Edison
Text 7. Wealth and Weightlessness
Text 8. Southern Statis
Text 9. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago

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Reading Guide
Brooklyn Bridge, 1898
Brooklyn Bridge
- "The Celebration To-morrow," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 23 May 1883
- Charles G. D. Roberts, "Brooklyn Bridge," poem, The Atlantic Monthly, June 1899

The nation's exuberant pride in engineering achievements is perhaps best illustrated in the response to the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a national symbol not only of progress but also of healing, for as critic Robert Hughes has pointed out, the bridge was "a powerful metaphor for unity and linkage, suggesting the binding-together of America after the terrible divisions of the 1860s." The article from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, published the day before the bridge opened, captures this pride, this sense of coming together, and the sheer delight Americans took in such monuments to progress. Like "Song of the Exposition," the article places this American triumph in the grand flow of history but also notes its distinctively American character as the product of "a free people." The article effuses over the bridge as an example of the technological sublime, but in a nation that even in the late nineteenth century still defined itself through its natural inheritance, it was appropriate to identify the bridge with a sublimity of a more Bierstadtian sort. That is what Charles G. D. Roberts does in his poem. Fifteen years after its opening the bridge had not lost its power to awe. Highly accessible, both texts could profitably be used with students. 4 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. How in the ways they contextualize the bridge, in the details upon which they focus, and in the angles from which they present it do the photographs interpret the bridge? What values do they convey?
  2. How does The Brooklyn Daily Eagle article reflect the memory of the Civil War?
  3. In what ways is the bridge a symbol of unity and linkage?
  4. How does the bridge define America's place in history and the world?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did Americans of this period define progress?
  •  What did progress mean to them?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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