Monday, September 15, 2014

On American Romanticism and Washington Irving

On American Romanticism and Washington Irving: As a literary genre that emerged in the early 19th century, American Romanticism consisted of writers who often transposed historical events into fictitious contexts. Two of the genre's earliest pioneers included James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving. While both authors' origins can be traced to New York state, it was Irving who based more of his publications in the surrounding geography of his hometown (Tarrytown, NY). In just two years (1819 & 1820), Irving published perhaps two of the most popular short stories in American Romantic literature: "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." For the story of "Rip Van Winkle," Irving adopted the literary technique of flash-forwarding through time. As a Dutch colonial settler in the Hudson Valley, Van Winkle fell asleep after drinking moonshine in the Catskill Mountains. He woke up decades later only to discover that the American Revolution had occurred and that New York had become part of a new, independent nation. And as for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving developed a fantastical tale of ghosts, ghouls, and haunts, in a post-Revolutionary War town along the Hudson River. The most memorable of which was the Headless Horseman, who notoriously terrorized the story's protagonist (Ichabod Crane) in a climatic chase.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On Sociology and Émile Durkheim

On Sociology and Émile Durkheim: It's been stated that sociology is the social science with the most methods and the least results. Originating in the late nineteenth century with help from works by French social theorist Durkheim, sociology focuses on social trends and organizations that affect whole groups or categories of people. Often contrasted with psychology, which attempts to explain the specific behaviors of individuals under certain circumstances, sociological methods seek to identify general pressures acting on social groups (and how those pressures influence group actions). One of Durkheim's common metaphors for sociology involved comparing it to bronze, which as a metal composed of tin, copper, and lead was much stronger than its individual components. Similarly, he believed the features of an entire social group cannot be measured simply by examining the features of individual members. Metaphors aside, however, it was Durkheim's 1897 book Suicide which really helped to solidify sociology as an academic discipline. In it, he studied the suicide rates of European Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups to uncover general trends. One such trend Durkheim found was that suicide rates were highest among single, Protestant, Scandinavian men. Suicide rates increased as well among men who had military experience and no children. Such trends proved appealing to a mass audience, as sociology started to gain legitimacy in academia.