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

Spring 2004

AMS 315 • Mechanics of Retro

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
26195 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
PAR 103

Course Description

One of the foundations of American culture has been a desire for the new. At the same time though, we have also looked to the past as a haven from the modern world. However, both can seem out of reach –the new can be an expensive, frightening barrage, and the past entombed in amber, not to be touched. Retro is an active response to that ambivalence. It can be as simple as picking up a Smurf lunchbox at Goodwill or as all-encompassing as spending a month at a Renaissance Festival. This activity can be found in everything from literature to fashion design to musical sampling. This course will explore the idea of retro on two fronts. First, as the title implies, we will discuss the mechanisms involved in reincorporating bits of the past into everyday life. In order to understand this, one must first understand the different relationships people have with the material world around them. Why do some people scour flea markets while others are happy to pick up a Pottery Barn catalog? Why do some items keep returning while others are quickly forgotten? How are various bits and pieces put together to make new styles? Second, We will also look at the emergence and development of the idea of retro in American culture over the last hundred and fifty years from Walden Pond to the “Wild” West through the rise of the thrift store to the almost instant nostalgia of today. The focus here will be on the larger cultural forces involved in people’s decisions to look backwards and retrieve something they feel they cannot find in contemporary society. In the end, one of the main goals of this course is for the student to be able to apply the issues we study to his or her own interests or major. This course contains a substantial writing component. To that end, a significant portion of the assignments will be geared towards the writing of a research paper on the topic of the students choosing. Most class time will be consist of discussion; therefore, attendance and active participation is expected.


Team Rodent by Carl Hiaasen Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker Mystery Train by Greil Marcus Course Pack with selected shorter readings FILMS… The Brady Bunch Movie (1995); Swingers (1996); Pleasantville (1998


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