Planes, (subway) trains, automobiles and World War I—A dramatic shift in sensibilities ocurred as a result of these factors of modern life.
Credit: Images courtesy of American Memory
The English novelist Virginia Woolf declared that human nature underwent a fundamental change "on or about December 1910." The statement testifies to the modern writer's fervent desire to break with the past, rejecting literary traditions that seemed outmoded and diction that seemed too genteel to suit an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence.”
—from the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets “The Modernist Revolution: Make It New”
Understanding the context of literary modernism (specifically, modernist poetry) is important for students before they analyze modernist texts themselves. To that end, this lesson enables students to explore and consider the forces that prompted such a “fundamental change” in human nature. In this lesson, students will explore the rise of cities; profound technological changes in transportation, architecture, and engineering; a rising population that engendered crowds and chaos in public spaces; factory life; and the aftermath of WWI. Students will begin to understand how these influential factors contributed to making individuals feel less unique and more alienated, fragmented, and at a loss in their daily lives and larger worlds.
Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
The term modernism refers to the radical shift in aesthetic and cultural sensibilities evident in the art and literature of the post-World War I period. The ordered, stable and inherently meaningful world view of the nineteenth century could not, wrote T.S. Eliot, accord with ‘the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.’.. rejecting nineteenth-century optimism, [modernists] presented a profoundly pessimistic picture of a culture in disarray.”
|Pre-Modern World (e.g., Romantic, Victorian Periods)||Modern World (early 20th century)|
|Faith||Loss of Faith|
|Morality/Values||Collapse of Morality/Values|
|Clear Sense of Identity||Confused Sense of Identity and Place in World|
Have students keep this chart, which they will add to as they continue with Lesson Three of this curriculum unit.
Quickened Pace of Transportation
Have this group explore the “The Wilbur and Orville Wright Timeline, 1901-1910,” from the EDSITEment-reviewed Library of Congress American Memory Project. Point out to students the collection’s webpage “The Belief That Flight is Possible to Man.”
Have this group explore the early motion videos from “Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904” [From the Library of Congress American Memory Project], including, for example:
World War I
Assessment options include the following exercises:
Consider extending this lesson with the EDSITEment lesson plan Poetry of The Great War: 'From Darkness to Light'?
1 class periods