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S2 Ep12: Time in American Life

"How do we live in time? How do we mark it? How do we make it meaningful?"

In this episode we talk with cultural historian Dr. Alexis McCrossen about what New Year’s celebrations, advances in timekeeping technologies, conflicts over the meanings of weekends and holidays, and other aspects of time can tell us about American history and culture.

About our guest:

Dr. Alexis McCrossen is a professor of history at Southern Methodist University. Dr. McCrossen is a cultural historian of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and her research interests include the history of timekeeping, religion, technology, cities, and business. She is the author of the books Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday, published in 2000, and Marking Modern Times: A History of Clocks, Watches, and Other Timekeepers in American Life, published in 2013. She is also the editor of and a contributor to Land of Necessity: Consumer Culture in the United States-Mexico Borderlands, published in 2009.

Dr. McCrossen is currently working on a book entitled Time's Touchstone: The New Year in American Life, which will be published by the University of Texas Press. The book will examine the White House's annual New Year's Day reception, New York's Times Square extravaganza, and Watch Night services, among other observances of the new year. This research is supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is also the federal funding body for Oklahoma Humanities.

Links to additional information about topics discussed in this episode: 

Read Dr. McCrossen’s article about the history of New Year’s observances in America in the newest issue of Oklahoma Humanities magazine.

Read George D. Prentice’s poem “The Closing Year,” which was often recited in the 19th century as a melancholy reflection on “the departed year.”

Check out the lyrics and meaning of “Auld Lang Syne,” the song most associated with New Year’s Eve, which grew in popularity during and after the Civil War.

Take a trip back in time by hearing the same “time by phone” service offered by the U.S. Naval Observatory since the 1970s. “At the tone, the time will be . . .”

Read Dr. McCrossen’s article from TIME Magazine about the history of “wearable technology” and the shifting popularity of pocket watches and wristwatches.