Constructing “American” and “Americans” in U.S. History since 1865
The United States' past is one of making and remaking the nation — as a government, a place, and a concept. This course surveys that dynamic process from the Reconstruction period through 9/11. Examining the people, practices, and politics behind U.S. nation building, we will consider questions of how different groups have defined and adopted "American" identities, and how definitions of the nation and citizenship shifted in relation to domestic and global happenings. This will include considering how ideas of gender, race, ethnicity, and citizenship intersected within projects of nation building. We will cover topics that include domestic race relations, U.S. imperialism, mass consumption, globalization, and terrorism, and developments such as legalized segregation, the Depression, World Wars I and II, and modern social progressive and conservative movements.
The Cold War Politics and Culture
The Cold War was an era, a culture, and a set of policies defining U.S. domestic and foreign relations. This course examines Cold War politics, culture, and foreign policies in relation to various national developments — including the rise of social movements, changes in city landscapes, and the “birth of the cool" — and international events, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and conflicts concerning Vietnam. Bearing on these developments were opportunities and limitations that accompanied ideological struggles between the United States and the Soviet Union, the rise of new cultural industries, and demographic shifts in the United States. Broad topic areas include: U.S. foreign policies; conformity and deviation along lines of gender, race, and sexuality; and domestic and foreign perceptions of the United States in a Cold War context.
The United States in the World War II Era
World War II was a uniquely defining moment in U.S. history, its sweeping influence forever altering the nation's culture, economics, and global position. This course examines events surrounding U.S. involvement in the Second World War from the Depression era through the early Cold War years. Our focus will be political, social, and cultural developments on the "home front," which we will contextualize within broader world dynamics. Topics include: domestic attitudes toward the war, the political and cultural significance of FDR's "four freedoms," shifts in foreign policy, a reshaped workforce ("Rosie the Riveter," Bracero programs, desegregation), sex and sexuality in the military, military personnel's experiences, wartime consumer trends, scientific advances, and the nation's geopolitical concerns and objectives.
The Modern Black Freedom Struggle
As popularly narrated, African Americans' modern freedom struggle is a social movement beginning in the mid-1950s and ending in the late-1960s, characterized by the nonviolent protest of southern blacks and facilitated by sympathetic (non-southern) whites. In this course, we explore the multiple ways — beyond protest and resistance — that blacks in the twentieth-century United States struggled for their rights and equality using resources at their disposal. This exploration will take us out of the South and consider actors and activities often neglected in the narrations of the struggle. Throughout, we will return to the following questions: What defines a movement? What constitutes civil rights versus Black Power activity? How and why are people and institutions — then and now — invested in particular narratives of the black freedom struggle? This course culminates in an assignment that requires students create their own narratives of this important history.
U.S. Consumer Culture & Citizenship
We are a nation organized around an ethos of buying things. Throughout the twentieth century, the government, media, big business, and the public increasingly linked politics and consumerism, and the formulation has been a route to empowerment and exclusion. In this course, we study how and why people in the United States theorized about, practiced, and promoted mass material consumption from the turn of the twentieth century into the twenty-first. Topics will include: the rise of consumer culture; the innovations of department stores, malls, freeways, and suburbs; developments in advertising and marketing; the global position of the American consumer in the post-World War II United States; and the political utility of consumption to various agendas, including promoting free enterprise, combating racism, and battling terrorism.
Fashion Matters: Dress, Style, and Politics in U.S. History
This seminar course explores the history of fashion in U.S. social and political movements. How have people used clothing and style to define themselves, demand recognition, challenge power, publicize injustice, and deflect or attract attention? We will examine how ideologies and experiences of race, gender, sexuality, and nationhood shaped uses of and reactions to fashion politics. Topics include the end of slavery, the rise of the “New Woman,” the Second World War, the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, the rise of hip hop, and the war on terror. Through these events, we will consider the political significance of hair, uniforms, campaign fashion, and religious dress. We will also consider how authenticity, imitation, appropriation, and commodification figure into this history.
Seeing Black: African Americans and U.S. Visual Culture
This seminar course explores black Americans' relationship to visual culture in the twentieth-century United States. We will examine how African Americans have produced, used, and appeared in the visual media of news, entertainment, and marketing industries, and evaluate the significance of their representation to both black and non-black political and social agendas. Areas of inquiry will include the intersections between U.S. visual culture and race relations, African Americans' use of visual culture as a means of self- and group-expression, and the state's use of black media images. This exploration will take us through a study of Jim Crow politics, black migrations and artistic movement, U.S. foreign relations and conflicts, and the development of marketing and advertising.
Telling Stories: The Politics of Narrating the Black Freedom Struggle
When it comes to the modern black freedom movement, narration of “the struggle” bears heavily on African Americans’ pursuits of civil rights, racial and economic equality, and national belonging. Popularly, the history of “the struggle” is a story of good Americans triumphing over bad racists. The simplicity of this narrative makes it ripe for appropriation; and individuals and institutions have put it to multiple uses, including: elevating certain forms of protest, mobilizing political support, selling material goods, and rolling back civil rights reforms. This seminar course explores how historians have complicated the history of African Americans’ freedom campaigns and considers how their interpretations shape perceptions of black activism, past and present. Topics will include: Emmett Till, black funeral homes, the Black Panther Breakfast program, and #BlackLivesMatter.