20th Century Project

FAQ

1. Why are you so interested in the 20th century?

2. Is the 20th Century Unlimited a project or a blog?

3. I’m new to the blog; where do I start?

4. How do you select which books to read each decade?

5. Why do you also read contemporary books?

6. Do I need to have read the books to enjoy the blog?

7. Do you read and blog a book simultaneously?

8. What’s the difference between a blog post and an article?

9. I’m an educator; how can I use your blog in my classroom?

10. Do you promote the blog?

11. Can I subscribe by email?

12. What if I have another question?

From the turn of the century...

1900-1909

Kim
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
Up from Slavery
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Souls of Black Folk
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Hound of the Baskervilles
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Ambassadors
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy

The Cherry Orchard
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Jungle
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Secret Agent
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
The Old Wives’ Tale
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
A Girl of the Limberlost
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy
Ann Veronica
All Posts | About | Author | Excerpts | Background | Legacy

1. Why are you so interested in the 20th century?

I’m fascinated by history, but the 20th century strikes me as particularly deserving of attention because it has a unique immediacy, because we’re literally watching it blur and recede into the mists of time, like Brigadoon.

Even as collective memory becomes history – as our centenarians and supercentarians pass away – the century-long arm of modern technology has made the lives of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents more accessible than that of any other generation before them.

Every group, association, trend, movement and crisis of the present has some root in the previous century, and we’re forever looking back, in one way or another, and trying to find out why and how we arrived at this particular vantage point. More concisely: How can anyone not find the 20th century interesting?

2. Is the 20th Century Unlimited a project or a blog?

It’s a reading project first and a lit-history blog second. The blog forces me to organize and clarify my thoughts and, I hope, enables others to benefit from something they themselves might not have the inclination, time and/or stamina to undertake.

I publish at least one new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In each of the next ten years, I will cover one decade of the 20th century via a minimum of ten notable fiction and nonfiction books published* (or performed) during that period, in addition to posts on landmark achievements in art and science (as well as occasional non-20th century related entries). More ambitiously, I hope to grasp for myself, and capture for readers, something of how we lived then, year by year, decade by decade.

*Books published in a given year, of course, were rarely written in that year and may portray a considerably earlier time period; publication dates may be an arbitrary value, then again, so are “centuries.”

3. I’m new to the blog; where do I start?

The Currently Reading link at the top of the blog sidebar will take you back to the first entry of the current month and enable you to read the most recent posts from oldest to newest.

If you’d like to browse posts from previous books, either scroll up and click on “all posts” under any book title, or jump to the blog page, scroll down the sidebar to the tags section and locate the desired book in the alphabetical list.

You can also access specific topics from the category archives (such as Arab Spring or Grab Bag), or read all posts by making your way back to the beginning via the monthly archives, also in the blog sidebar. View my RSS feed or subscribe via email to receive all posts or 20th century posts only, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

4. How do you select which books to read each decade?

I try to draw up the most inclusive, diverse list of contenders that I can find – working from “best of the century” and other lists, my own awareness of remarkable authors and people, and others’ recommendations.

I rely upon three basic criteria to winnow down the list as the year progresses: (1) has this book remained noteworthy? (2) does this book serve the interests of diversity (chronological, geographical, social, cultural, etc.)? (3) do I have any interest in reading this book?

For this period of 1900-1909, I found it difficult to find books translated into English from non-European languages and books by women writers. (The most significant book published this decade by a woman author is probably The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, but I’d prefer to blog about The Age of Innocence, published in 1920.) The more I advance in time, the more books I’ll have to choose from and the more limited my slice of the pie will become. But that’s life, dear reader – in the 20th century.

5. Why do you also read contemporary books?

We can’t prevent our experience of the present from shaping our perception of the past; we can only endeavor to observe how precisely it does so. Contemporary biographies, novels, and films (as well as other media) help me to understand why certain texts have remained relevant and how we are re-imagining them to serve our current needs.

6. Do I need to have read the books to enjoy the blog?

I certainly hope not. I write the overwhelming majority of blog posts with both newcomers and familiar readers in mind. A few short blog entries on a book, of course, cannot duplicate the experience of actually reading it, but the blog can situate selected works in both historical and contemporary context and relate scintillating details and stories (about the book, the author and related topics) on which the book itself remains coy.

7. Do you read and blog a book simultaneously?

No. I read all selected books in the month previous to blogging about them. Read “currently reading,” then as “currently blogging.”

8. What’s the difference between a blog post and an article?

I’m still mulling this one over, but at this point I’d say the most importance difference is that an article-like blog post (i.e. not a tweet-length intro and link) is expected to mimic a more casual, conversational tone than a traditional article. The best of those posts, however, are generally anything but off-the-cuff; they require just as much editing as an article of equivalent length, perhaps more given the added role of links. An article offers a window on a particular topic, but a blog post acts more like an old-fashioned switchboard operator, plugging the reader into a vast range of other experiences, both online and off.

9. I’m an educator; how can I use your blog in my classroom?

My 20th century posts can help students move beyond their own circumscribed social circle on Facebook and connect the worlds of books and blogs.

For instance, teachers…
o …seeking a trigger for initial or class-long discussion of the discipline of history itself can draw on (excerpts from) specific blog posts, such as the difficulty of capturing the present moment; how best to incorporate emotion into the analysis of history; and whether to hold historical figures to contemporary standards.
o …challenging students to expand on in-class work might ask students to conceive of their own book-to-blog project and to reflect on what they can learn from comparing their own efforts with the 20th Century Unlimited and other such projects.
o …encouraging small group or class discussion can ask students to debate the ideas and questions raised on the blog.

…and students…
o …following the blog will gradually become aware of the vast range and depth of historical resources online – such as free newspaper archives – and the way blogs (at their most useful) can illuminate and organize those resources;
o …studying, say, the turn of the 20th century can look to this blog as an example of a living bibliography, a new genre that straddles online and traditional publishing;
o …reading the books or authors I cover directly on the blog can dip into them via a variety of categories outlined on this page (above).

Other ideas? Please send them.

10. Do you promote the blog?

Not at this point. Since the blog is an extension of a personal project in its first year and not, as of now, an active attempt to promote my work or establish a platform, I’ve decided to focus exclusively on reading and blogging. Feel free to share individual entries via the share/send link at the end of each post; list the blog in your blogroll; or email me directly if you have any promotion-related or other suggestions.

11. Can I subscribe by email?

You can find several subscription options on the blog sidebar. Or click here to subscribe to all posts, here to subscribe to only 20th century posts and here for my RSS feed.

12. What if I have another question?

Questions are always welcome. Email me here.