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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Summer 2008

AMS w310 • Introduction to American Studies: Fair America

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
82405 MTWTh
2:30 PM-4:00 PM
jgb 2.216

Course Description

"Chicago was the first expression of American thought as unity." --William Dean Howells In the early 1890s, a monumental city sprung up in the middle of the booming metropolis of Chicago. Dozens of gleaming white buildings in classical style, each housing elaborate displays of various aspects of American life, surrounded a formal basin 2,500 feet long. The White City, as this dazzling creation was called, was the centerpiece of the World's Columbian Exposition, a Worlds Fair commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbuss discovery of America. Over 21 million people visited the Fair from all over the United States and the world, but not all of them focused on the vision of American progress and greatness demonstrated in the White City. Many flocked to the Midway Plaisance, a hectic jumble of ethnographic displays, rides, and other amusements, which created a stark contrast to the White City.

These two areasthe ordered vision of progress and the disordered experience of the midwaypresented visitors with strikingly different versions of American life. We will take the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago as a central symbolic moment through which "America" and the meanings of American life were defined, explored, and contested. The 1890s was the decade when the American nation transformed into the nation we now recognize as modern America. This class will take a topical approach to the study of American culture, focusing on the following themes: urbanization and industrialization, immigration and ethnicity, leisure and amusement, femininity and masculinity, the U.S. and the world, and race and law. Readings will include both primary sources written by people at the time and secondary sources by American Studies scholars trying to make sense of American cultural history. The class will provide an introduction to American Studies as a field of academic scholarship focused on interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the importance of American history and culture.


Possible Texts John Kasson, Amusing the Million H.W. Brands, The Reckless Decade Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee Optional book of fair photographs. Additional readings will be assembled in a course reader.


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