Twenty years after the publication of Lawrence Rainey’s Institutions of Modernism, our field once again finds itself wrestling with its troubled relationship with institutionalism. But where once Rainey argued, incisively, that literary modernism was self-aware of its own marketability and commodification, cocreating modernism as a discrete institution in its own right, we now find ourselves productively applying this rubric to the field’s institutionalization within academia itself.
In a 1913 pamphlet, F. T. Marinetti, best known for his “Manifesto of Futurism,” attributed the twentieth century’s “complete renewal of human sensibility” to a series of technological innovations, including “the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the train, the bicycle, the motorcycle, the automobile, the ocean liner, the dirigible, the aeroplane, the cinema, [and] the great newspaper.”
The 1938 documentary film Mony a Pickle (1938) stages a sequence in which a young couple imagines their future life in a flat of their own. As they each describe what they want in their new, modern home, their wishes come to life through the magic of trick photography.
In September 1927, Edward McKnight Kauffer’s “One Third of the Empire is in the Tropics” poster set appeared on over 1,000 specially built poster frames across Britain and in capital cities across the British Empire (figs. 1 and 2). Commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), an organization established by the British government in May 1926 to increase sales of Empire goods and products, it was the Board’s first modernist poster series.
In 1927, Ansel Adams, Albert Bender, and Bertha Damon drove through the US-Mexico borderlands. While Bender was already a prominent patron of the arts, and while Damon was already an established environmental writer, Adams was at a creative crossroads.
As Laura Heffernan has recently limned in her piece on the “New Disciplinary History,” literary studies has determinedly taken to retrack its epistemologies and reconfigure the discipline in terms of reading itself.
The development of the new modernist studies of the past fifteen years has involved what we could term, to borrow a phrase that has circulated in the social sciences since the nineties, a “new institutionalism.”