HIS 350L • Autos and the US Economy-W
3:00 PM-6:00 PM
Automobiles have constituted a distinctive element of the modern U.S. economy. The industry has been at the heart of many important economic developments, such as the coming of mass production technology and the creation of modern methods of business management. And, even in recent years, the industry remains a vital element of the economy, as the scholar Stan Luger noted, it accounted for 77 percent of all U.S. rubber consumption, 60 percent of malleable iron, 40 percent of machine tools, 25 percent of glass, and 20 percent of semiconductors. The automobile industry has also been one of the most controversial parts of the economy. Both popular culture and scholarly accounts have singled out the industry in debates about safety, the environment, energy policy, and corporate power in general. Consider films like ROGER & ME, and off-hand comments such as a student whose response to the last Gulf War was to say, our energy policy is the marines.
In this course, students will evaluate key business concepts, such as entrepreneurship, mass production, bureaucratic efficiency, as well as controversies over corporate power as manifested in topics such as safety and the environment. In making these evaluations, students will compare autos to other industries. They will also consider different historical sources used by scholars to frame their arguments, including management documents, legal records, quantitative evidence, fiction, and film.
Class discussions are a vital part of the course and will count for 30 percent of a students grade. Other writing assignments will vary in length from short papers (2 pages) to a moderate research essay of approximately 10 pages in length.
Possible Readings: Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., MY YEARS WITH GENERAL MOTORS David Hounshell, FROM THE AMERICAN SYSTEM TO MASS PRODUCTION Stuart W. Leslie, BOSS KETTERING Keith Bradsher, HIGH AND MIGHTY: SUVSTHE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS VEHICLES AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY Robert C. Post, HIGH PERFORMANCE: THE CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY OF DRAG RACING, 1950-1990 Thomas Sugrue, THE ORIGINS OF THE URBAN CRISIS Please note: The course is meant to be open to all students. I do not require any prior training in economics or business.