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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Our Cultural Historian

Our Cultural Historian

GRHC - November 3rd, 2010

Constance Mayfield Rourke - (November 14, 1885- March 29, 1941) - cultural historian and author of 7 books, including 'American Humor: A Study of the American Character', made Grand Rapids her home between 1915-1941. 



Turning her back on the East Coast and academic settings, pioneer cultural historian Constance Mayfield Rourke led a rich intellectual life from her modest home in Grand Rapids between 1915 and 1941. She wrote seven books and over one hundred articles arguing against the early twentieth-century's charge that American culture was a desert.

By documenting ample, if little-known, folk materials and using new anthropological ideas, Rourke forged important new thinking about "culture" and the American past. Her best-known book, American Humor: A Study of the National Character, first published in 1931, has never been out of print. She wrote for a popular audience, bringing to life an American identity based on comedy. She notes how humor was used by early Americans to blunt criticism from European "high" culture. 

 A 1927 book, a study of nineteenth-century popular public figures, included famous names such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and P.T. Barnum. In an extended history only partially published after her accidental death in 1941, Rourke documented the rich cultural contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Moravian peasants, Puritans, Shakers, farmers, merchants, miners, women, and cowboys.

During the 1920s and 1930s, women scholars were rarely taken seriously, but Rourke managed to carve a place for herself among the intellectuals of her day.

Widely mourned at her death and eulogized in national publications, this Grand Rapids woman's picture graced the cover of a 1941 national magazine, The Saturday Review of Literature. Rourke was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2004.





Full Details

TitleOur Cultural Historian
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, Constance Rourke, cultural philosopher, American Humor, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, radio, Podcast
Pubdate StringNovember 3rd, 2010

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