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Donald Miller : America at the Turn of the Century

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Donald Miller No place on the face of the Earth, in the history of the world had ever changed as fast as 19th century America. And I think Americans felt the whole floor underneath them had given way. It's a period of cyclonic growth and tremendous industrial and technological change. Every year there's a whole plethora of inventions coming on line that dramatically changed the very nature and quality of life -- the telephone, the telegraph, all of Edison's inventions, culminating in the phonograph and the movies and I mean it's all happening at the same time. There's just an explosion of growth and a lot of people felt they had lost their moorings literally.

The turn of the century is a time of crisis as well as opportunity, and the country's just been rocked by a series of major industrial conflagrations -- the Pullman Strike, the Homestead Strike. There's massive agitation that's beginning against large corporations. They're starting to come under the eye of muckrakers and reformers, and a lot of the sores and scars of industrialization are being exposed. And it's a time of great searching. I think it's a wonderful moment in the time of the country because we're, for the first time, I think, getting to the second and third layer of what we really are, you know, what's the undergirding of this country.

What all this change bred I think, more than anything, is a sense of anxiety, and the anxiety translated into the question, "Can we bring these forces under control?" "Can we continue to shape our social lives?" The economy is taking care of itself, it seems. Technology seems almost a spontaneous force with a power and life of its own. But can you build real human communities in this fast-changing industrial and technological world? Can you preserve the best of the past in terms of our laws, our social, customs, our mores, our sense of neighborhood and community? Can these things be kept alive and given a new sense of resurgence in an age of tremendous technological and social change?

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