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

Fall 2009

AMS 311s • The American Underground-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
29850 TTh
8:00 AM-9:30 AM
gar 3.116

Course Description

This class serves as an introduction to the American history of subterranean infrastructure and technologies such as mines, tunnels, sewers, aqueducts, missile silos, and military bunkers. Focusing on developments in New York City and other major American metropolitan areas, we will look at how the construction of underground infrastructure and technologies has shaped city growth and urban living. Students will engage not only with the technological history of the underground, but also the experiences of people who inhabit these subterranean spaces such as maintenance workers, subway passengers, the homeless, graffiti artists, and urban explorers. We will also study representations of the underground in art, cinema, and literature. From Fritz Lang's Metropolis to film noir and Cold War espionage narratives, underground spaces have represented contested sites of class warfare and apocalyptic anxieties.

The term "underground" is also used figuratively to describe clandestine social and political movements like the “underground railroad” as well as counter-establishment aesthetic movements as in underground film and underground music. A number of lectures and class discussions will be devoted to these underground movements in the attempt to develop connections between them and actual subterranean environments.

Grading Policy

Response Papers 15% Midterm exam: 25% Short Paper: 20% Long Paper: 30% Class Participation: 10%


Possible Texts Alex Marshall, Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities Jill Jonnes, Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels Jennifer Toth, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City Rosalind Williams, Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America


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