Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
ams masthead
Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2008

AMS 390 • Property in American Culture

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
30140 W
10:00 AM-1:00 PM
BUR 436B

Course Description

George W. Bush frequently refers to the United States as an "ownership society." Indeed, the ownership of property has been among the central tenets of an American sense of belonging and citizenship from the colonial period to the present. And yet for certain segments of society, ownership and property have been very troubling ideas. Dispossessed of and removed from ancestral homelands, Native American nations have been forced to reconfigure their relationship to land and ownership. Struggles over the sanctity of burial grounds and the recovery of sacred objects have forced the United States to confront its assumptions regarding ownership. Their bodies literally turned into property to be bought and sold on the market, African Americans have attempted to recast themselves as citizens with property rights even in the face of large-scale violence and institutional racism. The property and citizenship duties of wives once subsumed under the name and title of husbands, women's property has consistently troubled the relationship between work and the home, and between public and private realms.

In historical and contemporary usage, the term, "property" has conveyed rights in persons, places, things, and ideas to individuals, collectivities, corporations, and other entities. This course explores American conceptions of property over a wide range of economic transformations from the mercantile to the digital age. We will interrogate the spoken and unspoken investments our nation has had in the idea of property. We will consider liberal and republican descriptions of and justifications for private property ownership. We will trace the evolution of those ideas over the course of American history, paying special attention to how property resonates in the reflections of those who have traditionally been less able to define the stakes of ownershipthose such as women, African Americans, Native Americans, and the poor among other groups.


Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the American Historical Imagination; David E. Wilkins and K. T. Lomanwainma, Uneven Ground; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Age of Homespun; Dylan Penningroth, Claims of Kinfolk; Stephen Best, Fugitive's Properties; Sven Beckert, Moneyed Metropolis; Viviana Zelizer, Purchase of Intimacy; Don Mitchell, Right to the City; Joseph Singer, Entitlement; Siva Vaidhyanathan, Copyrights and Copywrongs


bottom border