American Studies 356/History 356K
Main Currents in American Culture Since 1865
Dr. Mark Smith
Tues 10-11, Th 12:30-2 and by appt.
Office: Burdine 408
Hours: TTh 3:30-5 and by appt.
At the end of the Civil War, American society became flooded with new technologies, ethnic groups, ideas, and customs. A society, which had bewildered earlier American visitors with its diversity and complexity, accelerated its already frantic pace. This course identifies and describes some of the “booming, buzzing confusion” of American culture from the Civil War through about 1990 and relates their impact upon common and not-so-common Americans. While one can see single elements, especially Protestantism, dominating American culture in the first half of the course, we will see an apparent unraveling of a unified American culture in this course until the last required book asks whether America is one society any more or, indeed, whether it has ever been.
This course is interdisciplinary and will discuss developments in and use insights from such fields as anthropology, architecture, fine arts, history, documentary photography and film, economics, literature, philosophy, politics, science, social history, social reform, and technology. It also takes a multicultural approach and integrates the lives and cultures of immigrants, women, and minority racial groups into the picture of mainstream (whatever that is) American culture.
Horatio Alger, Jr. Ragged Dick: Street Life in New York with the Boot-blacks John Kasson Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century David von Drehle Triangle: The Fire That Shaped America
Nancy McLean Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan Jack Kerouac On the Road
Thomas Frank What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Required Documentary Films I have cut back on the reading to emphasize documentary films. I am especially doing this because YouTube has so many possibilities. Unfortunately they do not have codes but I’ve tried to make clear which films are which. All of them are YouTube. “Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 1911” PBS American Experience “The Plough That Broke the Plains” Pare Lorentz and Farm Security
“Dust Bowl” Part 1 of 5, 2 of 5, 3 of 5, 4 of 5, 5 of 5, PBS Ken Burns “Eyes on the Prize” “Bridge to Freedom 1965” PBS Videos and Blackside Inc. “The Weather Underground” 2002 Academy Award Nominee
The course will be conducted primarily upon a lecture basis. I have put suggested dates for the reading and films on the syllabus, but those decisions are completely your own. References to the reading will be made in class, but there will be no specific classes devoted to discussion of the reading. I will encourage discussion or comments about the books during the lectures. Please contact your teaching assistant or myself if there is any difficulty with the books, especially with integrating them with lecture material. Indeed, the nature of this course and its emphasis upon comprehension over memorization would make discussion with your TA and even more each other especially useful. Thus, I recommend the development of study groups which have worked well in the past.
There will be three exams in the course. Because there are roughly an equal number of lectures in each part of the course, each exam will count one-third of your grade. The exams are scheduled tentatively for October 1st, November 5th, and December 12th during the finals period.. The last exam will not be cumulative but you will be given two hours rather than ninety minutes to take the test.. You will be responsible for taking the third exam on time or be prepared to take at the very best an Incomplete....
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