American Identities, 1945-1980


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Course Description

This course is an examination of the changeable and changing identities of various communities within the United States and the changing defintion of the nation itself from 1945-the mid-1980s (maybe the early 90s). In particular, we will think about what it has meant to be an "American" and how that definition changes in varying historical circumstances over time. We will focus especially on the categories of race, class, and gender and will think about how those categories of identity intersected with America's popular culture and economic and political paths throughout the postwar era. As America moved from a producer nation in the 1920s to a consuming nation by the 1950s, its politics as well as its understandings of race, class, and gender shifted in unpredicted and unpredictable ways. As the Andy Warhol image "Statue of Liberty" (left) suggests, the idea of what it meant to be in America was multichromatic and often blurry in the latter part of the 20th century. We will discuss identity, as an idea and as a very real cultural practice, and we will focus in particular on the ways in which ideas about the economy and democracy informed the ways in which people created and performed their individual and group identities over the long 20th century. We will focus in, especially, on the ways in which media played a role in defining and redefining the self and how those definitions transformed America's presence in the world.

In the process of intensive writing, reading, and reflecting on the cultural and political history of the United States in this period, we will also learn a good deal about what it means to be "us". Hopefully by the semester's end, we will have a better sense of ourselves and our 21st century society. It is a big undertaking, but with open minds and inspiring work ethics, we will get there!

Image above borrowed from The Warhol (accessed 6/29/2011). Why might Warhol's work be a perfect representation of our course and of the 20th century in general? Hopefully, by semester's end, we will be able to play with this question a bit!