The United States at the turn of the twentieth century cultivated a passion for big. It witnessed the emergence of large-scale corporate capitalism; the beginnings of American imperialism on a global stage; record-level immigration; a rapid expansion of cities; and colossal events and structures like world's fairs, amusement parks, department stores, and skyscrapers. Size began to play a key role in American identity. During this period, bigness signaled American progress.
These Days of Large Things explores the centrality of size to American culture and national identity and the preoccupation with physical stature that pervaded American thought. Clarke examines the role that body size played in racial theory and the ways in which economic changes in the nation generated conflicting attitudes toward growth and bigness. Finally, Clarke investigates the relationship between stature and gender.
These Days of Large Things brings together a remarkable range of cultural material including scientific studies, photographs, novels, cartoons, architecture, and film. As a general cultural and intellectual history of the period, this work will be of interest to students and scholars in American studies, U.S. history, American literature, and gender studies.
Michael Tavel Clarke is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Calgary.
Cover photograph: "New York from Its Pinnacles," Alvin Langdon Coburn (1912). Courtesy of the George Eastman House.
"A fascinating study of the American preoccupation with physical size, this book charts new paths in the history of science, culture, and the body. A must-read for anyone puzzling over why Americans today love hulking SUVs, Mcmansions, and outsized masculine bodies."
---Lois Banner, University of Southern California
"From the Gilded Age through the Twenties, Clarke shows a nation-state obsessed with sheer size, ranging from the mammoth labor union to the 'Giant Incorporated Body' of the monopoly trust. These Days of Large Things links the towering Gibson Girl with the skyscraper, the pediatric regimen with stereotypes of the Jew. Spanning anthropology, medicine, architecture, business, and labor history, Clarke provides the full anatomy of imperial America and offers a model of cultural studies at its very best."
---Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University