AMS 315 • Cultural History of American Teenagers
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
This introductory-level 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, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality, most American adults nevertheless share the expectation that their teenage children have entered their peak years of rebellion, bad behavior, experimentation, and self-discovery. Where do these ideas surrounding the teenager come from? We will examine the experiences of actual teenagers, and ideas and representations of teenagers in different eras of American history, focusing especially on the twentieth century. Among the questions we will explore: Is adolescence a product of biology or psychology 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 larger social conflicts of their particular historical moments? How have experts and intellectuals shaped popular attitudes about teenagers? This course also introduces students to the interdisciplinary methods of American Studies, which combines the approaches and insights of history, literature, memoir, sociology, psychology, anthropology, cultural studies, and the visual arts. Students will learn to think historically about teenagers and critically about the idea of the teenager; read and analyze a variety of texts such as film, music, visual art, literature, and academic writing; give oral presentations; evaluate primary and secondary research materials; and execute a major research paper of ten to twelve pages in length.
Required Reading List: Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard, eds., Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth Century America Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi Louis Sachar, Holes Selected articles on UT Electronic Reserve Required Films: Devils Playground (2002) Rebel Without a Cause (1954) Juvies (1999)