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"Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age" by T. Adams Upchurch
Historical Dictionaries of U.S. Historical Eras, No. 13
Scarecrow Press | 2009 | ISBN: 0810858299 | 317 pages | PDF | 6 Mb

This series on Historical Dictionaries of U.S. Historical Eras is filling in the blanks, and as noted above, the Gilded Age was an important but often overlooked period.

This dictionary contains articles chosen for their comparative significance to the broad panorama of American history during the Gilded Age. Many important people, issues, and events have been excluded in the interest of brevity. Choices of what to include were subjective, so exclusion does not necessarily indicate insignifi cance. In some cases, collective entries proved more useful than individualized ones. For instance, the entries “Literature,” “Periodicals,” and “The Press” cover most of the major authors, editors, literary movements, books, and infl uential publications of the Gilded Age much more succinctly than several dozen individual entries could.

The Gilded Age, which lasted for several decades at the end of the 19th century, has left less of an impression than the previous period of Civil War and Reconstruction or the one that followed, known as the Progressive Era. Nevertheless, it was an important time of transition, with positive as well as negative aspects, even if the latter often appeared predominant. Of course, with a tag like “gilded,” there is a tendency to look at the era’s more opprobrious features such as, in the economy, the rise of so-called Robber Barons, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the wretched conditions in which many lived and worked; in politics, the election of mostly forgettable presidents, unbridled rivalry between the parties, unexciting issues such as tariffs and free silver, and rampant corruption; in society, discrimination against African Americans, Native Americans, Chinese, Eastern European immigrants, and women; and in foreign policy, the emergence of jingoism and empire building. Tentatively if not always very visibly, reformers began to address many of these problems before the end of the era.

This was also the period when the United States really expanded across the continent, fi lling in many of the hitherto empty spaces with a rapidly growing population, tied together with markedly improved transportation and communications networks, and when mass industrialization began, transforming not only the economy but everybody’s lifestyle.

As a period of transition with many countervailing good and bad features, it is not easy to get a fi x on the Gilded Age, and indeed even historians are gradually revising the earlier opinions. Therefore, another look is certainly worthwhile, and an encyclopedia like this is not a bad place to begin since it contains entries on good and bad aspects of the era alike; on notable leaders of every stripe and in many fields; on political parties, trade unions, and social movements; on major events and lesser ones that give a feeling for the times; on literature and the arts; and on changing lifestyles and popular culture.
The chronology traces the trajectory from 1869 to 1899 and shows how surprisingly eventful the period was. The introduction, a particularly important section, ties things together and provides a broader perspective through which to view the entries. Admittedly, only so much can be said in this Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age, and readers who want to know more will have to consult the bibliography.

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