AMS 315 • Cultural History of American Teenagers
4:30 PM-6:00 PM
This course begins with a basic question: What has "growing up" meant for different generations of Americans? Guided by conventional wisdom, we tend to view turmoil-ridden adolescence as a normal phase in the life course, even as we are bombarded routinely with warnings that the latest generation of youth is the worst one yet. These claims today seem to preach to the choir. Divided by culture, politics, class, race, religion, gender, and sexuality, most American adults nevertheless generally share the expectation that their teenaged children have entered their peak years of rebellion, bad behavior, experimentation, and self-discovery. We will examine both the experiences of actual teenagers and ideas about teenagers in different eras of American history, focusing especially on the twentieth century. Among the questions we will explore: Is adolescence a stage in the life course that transcends history? Do teenagers from distinct social groups and cultures share similar experiences? How have adults constructed institutions such as the high school or the juvenile justice system to channel the supposed energies of youth? What types of cultures have young people themselves created, and how are they rooted in the issues of their particular historical moments? How have experts and intellectuals shaped popular attitudes about teenagers? In this course students will learn to think historically about teenagers; read and analyze a variety of texts such as film, music, visual art, literature, and academic writing; give oral presentations; and execute a major research paper of ten to twelve pages in length.
In-class midterm exam: 25%; Take-home final exam: 25%; Research paper (10-12 pages): 30% Two short film response papers (2-3 pages): 10%; Class participation and attendance: 10%
Possible required texts (no more than six): Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard eds., Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth-Century America Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers Richard Wright, Native Son Monica Sone, Nisei Daughter J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders Nicholas von Hoffman, We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against Anonymous, Go Ask Alice William Finnegan, Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country Anne Arnett Ferguson, Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity Course packet with selected short readings Possible required films (no more than three): Dead End (1938); The Blackboard Jungle (1954); Rebel Without a Cause (1954); I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1959); Beach Party (1962); Splendor in the Grass (1962); High School (1968); American Graffiti (1973); Zoot Suit (1981); The Breakfast Club (1984); School Daze (1988); Menace II Society (1993); Dazed and Confused (1993); American Pie (1999); Juvies (1999); The Merchants of Cool (2000); Ghost World (2001); Inside the Teenage Brain (2002); GirlHood (2003)