Understanding the Modern Mentality

The intellectual and cultural movements of the modern era revealed society’s sense of ambiguity, uncertainty, and ingenuity during the profound changes of the early 20th century. Exploring this time in history, Ross juniors embarked on their Modernity Projects with help of cultural history teacher Carrie Clark and Jen Cross, chair of Visual Arts. The students were tasked with selecting a topic that would serve as a form of self-expression as well as embody the modern mentality.

This year’s projects explored technology, fashion, political theory, art, film, and athletics, among many other topics. Julian Alvarez, Eli Schultz, and Sam Hamilton deconstructed and reassembled a one-cylinder internal combustion engine. The project taught them not only about mechanics but also about the impact this engine had on society and the modern world, such as Henry Ford’s Model T. By improving the assembly line so that the Model T could be produced more inexpensively, Ford placed the power of the internal combustion engine within reach of the average American.

Other modernity projects included Julia Lucas and Naomi Tankel’s study on how the popularity of horror films connects to anxieties and uncertainties of modern society; Rebecca Hamilton’s examination of Dada, an avant-garde art movement in Europe; and Orrin Frazier’s satirical book on communism.

Meanwhile, Jeheli Odidi and Annamarie Ruscica explored Coco Chanel’s revolutionizing fashion aesthetic, as she showed women they could be classy and sophisticated without sacrificing comfort. Jeheli and Annamarie customized vintage clothes to mimic Chanel’s style. Charlie Li discussed the historical significance of men’s braids and women’s foot binding in China. And Lily Baron and Chris Lee explored urban planning, architecture, and the impact of cafés. “There were many new ideas that came about in the modern era, and many of them took place during conversations in cafés,” said Lily. The students focused on designing an Internet café in a small town in Uganda whose people are disillusioned by high unemployment and poverty. The idea, they explained, is to provide a space for Ugandans to meet and exchange ideas in the hopes of generating a new movement of change in the region.

Following a week of presentations, the students gathered on February 15 to celebrate the completion of the modernity unit with a postmodern party, or “salon.”