Project Title:
PRAIRIE SCHOOLS: Radicalisms/Modernisms/Internationalisms and the Global Midwest

Project Description:
Prairie Schools focuses on multiple aspects of the global Midwest: its radicalisms, modernisms, and internationalisms. It aligns public practices of invention, aesthetic formation, and memorialization with investigations of the modern built environment, which must be seen as temporally, spatially, and affectively mobile. Our inquiry is grounded in the assumption that American Studies has always been Global Studies; it was born of the global era: the Great Depression, World War II and especially the Cold War. But, we argue, the global is a late manifestation of the international, a hallmark of high modernity. This project investigates how the international became global. It delves into the murky space of that transition, which is neither complete nor easily described—a transition, we argue, that may be most productively studied in the modern Midwest.
From Enlightenment thinkers to corporate executives to labor activists, “America” has served as a fiction of and figure for the ills and promises of the modern and modernity, and its concomitant inventions and ideals. However, to take seriously the question of thinking “America” as a multi-temporal and trans-spatial invention demands a meta-analysis of the fictive enterprises that constitute it, including its so-called “regions.” This project focuses on the American “heartland”: the Midwest. As a nexus of farming and industry, the modern “Midwest” performs the shift from an international to a global America, a transition that takes between the 1880s and 1940s.
We ask: Who built the Midwest, lived it, represented it and used it? What remains?
This shift was at once a literal process and figurative construct, one of mass migration and immigration (from Eastern and Northern Europe, the U.S. East Coast and South and Mexico), exchanges of labor and language, of taste, craft, and style, and was facilitated by and produced new modes of transportation. For instance, Mexicans escaping the violence of the 1910s Revolution found work in Chicago on the railroads, in meatpacking plants, and in Detroit in Ford’s brand new Model T factory. German-speaking immigrants came to Minneapolis bringing with them the skills of brewing and milling and new aesthetic visions—particularly in arts and crafts. The French architect Le Courbusier saw Midwestern grain elevators and the skyscrapers of Chicago and reimagined a “new architecture” of poured concrete. Frank Lloyd Wright left the Midwest in 1905 to take his first trip abroad to Japan, studied woodcuts and Japanese vernacular architecture, and created a new suburban model for the American middle-class family: a house harmonized with its landscape.
These are all examples of Prairie Modernism, the focus of our Phase One proposal, which grafted residual, immigrant, rural and indigenous modes of expression onto an emergent mass urban manufacturing culture and set them into motion. The project entails a four-city (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Chicago) mobile mini-institute to foster conversations on this subject among interdisciplinary scholars and focus on the feelings and fissures of the modern built environment.
Ÿ Building Labor (Twin Cities): lumber, labor, arts and crafts: WPA bas-reliefs, grain elevators, house museums, bars
Ÿ Unsettling the Domestic (Chicago): alternative domestic spaces: settlement houses, suburbs, luxury hotels, and mail order houses
Ÿ Integrating assembly (Detroit): art, movement, and production: murals, museums, factories, studios
Organizer Name:

Paula Rabinowitz (Professor of English):
Jani Scandura (Associate Professor of English):
Organizer's Contact Information:
Organizer's Departmental and University Affiliation:
Department of English, 207 Lind Hall, University of Minnesota, 207 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455