Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

1918: The Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Prof Elaine Crane, Prof Esther Katz, Dr Terry Collins.

The twentieth century began in 1918, the year the Great War ended. It was a year that launched such unparalleled transformations that the world was changed forever. At peace again, the United States took the opportunity to re-evaluate and reorganize its visions of a modern democratic society. And if 1918 was the time, New York City was the place. This metropolis, which had emerged as the new center of culture and commerce, was also the hub of twentieth-century American ambivalence, with the hostile outbreak of anti-European nativism and the warm embrace of cultural/economic European modernism. This panel will examine these conflicts and tensions from three perspectives:
1) The influenza pandemic of 1918 that struck New York City caught local officials by surprise. It was a catastrophe for which Europeans were blamed: first the Germans, who had previously "started epidemics in Europe," and then the recent immigrants to New York who squeezed into tenements, crowded into subways, and spit in the streets.
2) New York in 1918 saw the suppression of many left-wing radicals and anti-war dissidents. A 1918 New York Court of Appeals decision upheld reformer Margaret Sanger's 1917 conviction for opening a birth control clinic in New York City. While this decision gave physicians the right to dispense contraceptive information to women to prevent or cure disease, it did so in the context of a rising nativist tide, which viewed birth control as another way of limiting European immigrant influence in America.
3) From private banking houses and transatlantic shipping lines to the repertories of the Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic Society, much of New York's metropolitan scene was the legacy of German-ancestry on the eve of World War One. If the permanent deletion of ethnically German New York was still somewhat ambiguous by the war's end, the transition year of 1918 would nonetheless more generally reveal New York's limits as a center of difference, its resistance to such limits, and how cultural, propertied, and intellectual values responded to the erasure, restriction, substitution and replenishment of the German "other".


Prof Elaine Crane  (United States)

Fordham University

Prof Esther Katz  (United States)
Project Director and Associate Professor of History
Margaret Sanger Papers Project History Department
New York University

Esther Katz teach 20th century American and women's history at New York University. She is the Director and Editor of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project, which has published a two-series microfilm edition (University Publications of America); has published The Woman Rebel, 1900-1928 (Illinois University Oress, 2003), and the Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, and Birth Control Comes of Age, 1928-1939. Dr. Katz is currently the president of the Association for Documentary Editors

Dr Terry Collins  (United States)

Rutgers University

  • 1918
  • Nativism
  • Immigration
  • Influence
  • Birth control
  • Metropolitanism

(Virtual Presentation, English)