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The Modern Age

Turn-of-the-Century American Culture and the Invention of Adolescence

Kent Baxter

Publication Year: 2011

The Modern Age examines the discourses that have come to characterize adolescence and argues that commonplace views of adolescents as impulsive, conflicted, and rebellious are constructions inspired by broader cultural anxieties that characterized American society in early-twentieth-century America.


The idea of adolescence, argues Kent Baxter, came into being because it fulfilled specific historical and cultural needs: to define a quickly expanding segment of the population, and to express concerns associated with the movement into a new era. Adolescence—a term that had little currency before 1900 and made a sudden and pronounced appearance in a wide variety of discourses thereafter—is a “modern age” not only because it sprung from changes in American society that are synonymous with modernity, but also because it came to represent all that was threatening about “modern life.”


Baxter provides a preliminary history of adolescence, focusing specifically on changes in the American educational system and the creation of the juvenile justice system that carved out a developmental space between the child and the adult. He looks at the psychological works of G. Stanley Hall and the anthropological works of Margaret Mead and explores what might have inspired their markedly negative descriptions of this new demographic. He examines the rise of the Woodcraft Indian youth movement and its promotion of “red skin” values while also studying the proliferation of off-reservation boarding schools for Native American youth, where educators attempted to eradicate the very “red skin” values promoted by the Woodcraft movement.


Finally Baxter studies reading at the turn of the century, focusing specifically on Horatio Alger (the Ragged Dick series) and Edward Stratemeyer (the Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys series) and what those works reveal about the “problem” of adolescence and its solutions in terms of value, both economic and moral.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Completing this book would never have been possible without the support and encouragement of Jim Kincaid, whose brilliant insights into age categories and enthusiasm about this topic have both inspired and enlightened my work in innumerable ways. Joseph Boone has been an incredible mentor over the years; ...

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pp. 1-20

Featured prominently at newsstands across the country and a free gift for renewing subscribers, a special 2005 issue of U.S. News & World Report is devoted to exposing one of the most widespread and sinister cover-ups of contemporary American society. Surprisingly, the scandal has nothing to do with Enron or Iraq’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction. ...

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1. New Kids on the Block: School Reform, the Juvenile Court, and Demographic Change at the Turn of the Century

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pp. 21-43

Given the commanding presence of the adolescent in all aspects of contemporary Western culture, it is hard to imagine a time when such a concept and its representative demographic did not exist, but most scholars are in agreement that one need glance back only a hundred years or so to find evidence of such a reality. ...

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2. G. Stanley Hall, Margaret Mead, and the Invention of Adolescence

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pp. 44-72

Urbanization, industrialization, and the various social reforms that accompanied these changes in America in the latter half of the nineteenth century had the effect of making teens a more conspicuous presence. These changes in society, to a certain extent, also engendered a markedly negative attitude toward this suddenly more pronounced population. ...

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3. Every Vigorous Race: Age and Indian Reform Movements

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pp. 73-92

In an autobiographical account of the founding of one of the first and most prominent American Indian boarding schools, Richard Henry Pratt describes how far the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and the movement it represented had come by 1904, the year he retired as superintendent: ...

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4. Playing Indian: The Rise and Fall of the Woodcraft Youth Movements

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pp. 93-115

If the young hooligans who vandalized the property of Ernest Thompson Seton in the spring of 1901 had only known that their behavior would directly inspire the largest youth movement in American history, they probably would have lobbied for some honorary mention, but to this day they remain largely unknown. ...

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5. Teen Reading at the Turn of the Century (Part I): Horatio Alger

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pp. 116-135

Late nineteenth-century American society experienced a remarkable increase in the production and consumption of printed texts. The expansion of the industry that took place after the Civil War has been attributed to a steady increase in literacy rates, the growth of the public library system, ...

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6. Teen Reading at the Turn of the Century (Part II): Edward Stratemeyer

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pp. 136-154

Written four years after his death, a 1934 article in Fortune magazine (“For It Was Indeed He”) commemorates the legacy of one of America’s most prolific writers of fiction. Evaluating his success not in terms of international prizes awarded or the ability to “capture the soul of his generation,” ...


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pp. 155-174

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 175-178


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pp. 179-185

Back Cover

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p. 199-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380748
E-ISBN-10: 0817380744
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356989
Print-ISBN-10: 0817356983

Page Count: 196
Publication Year: 2011