I probably owe an explanation for this earlier post. Sprinkles? Betty Crocker? Modernization?
Well, yeah. Over the course of this semester, I’ve noticed the extent to which the way I look at the world is influenced by what I’m studying. Last semester, I was taking courses in architectural history, material culture, and airport development, and when I looked at the world around me, I thought about it in those terms. My course load this semester has a different, more historical mixture, and one of my classes stands out for how strongly it has affected how I look at the world.
That course, Making America Modern, 1880-1930, is a junior seminar taught by Jean Christophe-Agnew. It covers the fifty years in America when modernity touched down, the world slid sideways, and everything changed. The foundations set during this time remain in place: we are borne ceaselessly forward by machinery set running over a century ago.
We find modernity everywhere, in the history of our newspapers, our technologies, our mass culture. And so too in the mundane and everyday: These sprinkles index modernity, telling a story of changes in society, technology, culture, gender relations. The ice cream parlor, their host, was made possible by advances in industrial refrigeration (1870s), the invention of the ice cream soda (1874-6) and the ice cream sundae (1890s), the proliferation of the counter-service soda fountain (1903). The spread of the soda fountain and the ice cream parlor was enabled by the transition from a rural agricultural economy to an urban industrial economy, and it, in turn, enabled the rise of a new public and a non-gendered urban social sphere.
Modernization is like the Big Bang. It dropped a fiery mix of ideas, sparkling new and bubbly hot, and we have watched them pool around us, solidifying in strange peaks and voids. Sprinkles are one of the hunks of rock hurled out of the explosion, through which we may reveal and understand the past.