NLUS Spring 2021

Chicago, City of Industry, Art & Labor, 1890-1960

January 19, 2021 – May 6, 2021

Chicago is as famous for its art as it is for its industry. Both made this town into the quintessential nineteenth-century city that did more to shape the United States’ aesthetics, economics, and politics than the nickname “Second City” suggests. Yet scholars rarely consider how interrelated Chicago’s arts and businesses have been.

Indeed, most Americans presume the arts and industry to be at odds with one another when, in fact, they have not only grown in tandem but have been historically intertwined. For example, the architects who crafted Chicago’s iconic architectural style did so through their work on State Street’s retail giants; Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay drew Theodore Thomas, founder and first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, from New York to Chicago with the promise of a permanent fully-funded orchestra; and editor Harriet Monroe relied on start-up funds from major industrialists like George A. Hormel for her ground-breaking magazine, Poetry, A Magazine of Verse.  

The Spring 2021 Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar (NLUS) highlights the connections between Chicago’s cultural and industrial past, examining how its creative production arose from its identity as a rail and mail order hub, meat processing center, architectural innovator, site for world’s fairs, and as a flashpoint for racial and labor tension. Students will explore the Newberry’s Chicago holdings to understand how the city became an important center of artistic innovation and production, not in spite of, but because of Chicago’s role as a major center of commerce where laborers fought to change what it meant to work, live, and create in modern America.

We will draw on the papers of writers such as Eunice Tietjens and Sherwood Anderson; columnists Ben Hecht, Henry Hanson, and Fanny Butcher; and materials as diverse as those associated with both world’s fairs, the Midwest Dance Collection, and Chicago Architects Oral History Project. Students will also read primary sources such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, and Carl Sandburg, and issues of Poetry magazine. Finally, students will study major artworks made in Chicago, and consider the politics, funding, and invisible labor involved in creating the museums, libraries, clubs, and outdoor spaces where they were exhibited. 

Students in the seminar will then have the chance to pursue their own research interests. For their final projects, students will be encouraged to follow their own intellectual curiosity about the texts and artworks that we discuss together. Just as importantly, they will delve further into the Newberry’s vast archival collections, including materials pertaining to American literature, Chicago and Midwestern writers, Chicago neighborhoods, Chicago’s labor movement, and other relevant collections pertaining to Chicagoland’s history in order to produce a substantive, graduate-level research paper. The class will meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons 2-5 pm from January 19, 2021 through May 6, 2021.

The Newberry Library is planning the Spring 2021 Newberry Library Undergraduate Course with the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff as our first priority. The format and structure of the course may be adjusted due to the ongoing public health situation. For regular updates on Newberry operations during Covid-19, please check here.

2021 NLUS Faculty

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer is an associate professor of history at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches courses on labor, capitalism, and politics. She has written about those topics in op-eds, academic articles, and scholarly books, including Sunbelt Capitalism (2013) and The Right and Labor, a 2012 edited collection done with Nelson Lichtenstein. She is currently finishing a book on the history of student lending. 

Melissa Bradshaw

Melissa Bradshaw is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Loyola University Chicago. Her research focuses on publicity, personality, and fandom in twentieth century British and American literature. She has published extensively on the American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925), co-editing a volume of her poems as well as a volume of scholarly essays about her. Her book, Amy Lowell, Diva Poet (Ashgate, 2011), won the 2011 MLA Book Prize for Independent Scholars. She has also published on Edith Sitwell, Edna St. Vincent Millay and on divas more generally. She currently directing and editing The Amy Lowell Letters Project, a digital critical edition Lowell’s collected letters, as well as working on a book on celebrity poets and ephemera.  She is an associate editor and book review editor for the journal Feminist Modernist Studies.