Course: The American City

HC 233H

Professor: Ocean Howell

In the postbellum (post-Civil War) era, the cities of the United States provided the world with a number of firsts, including the first skyscraper and the first settlement to reach a population of 10 million. At various points, American cities have been the largest, the tallest, the densest, and the wealthiest on the planet. For all of their technological and social triumphs, however, American cities have also nurtured crushing inequality, dangerous slums, and criminal economies. This course will introduce students to the history of one of the most fascinating and contradictory social forms of the modern world. Students will read about the American city from a variety of perspectives: as a design artifact, a product of architects and planners; as a political arena, a set of governmental institutions; as a system for ordering social relations, especially those of race, ethnicity, class, and gender; as a market, an engine for generating and distributing wealth; as an "entertainment machine," an engine for generating and satisfying a dizzying array of human desires; and as an underworld, a breeding ground for countercultures and criminal enterprises. The first third of the course will focus on readings with the aim of demonstrating the variety of possible approaches to researching the American city. Students will begin thinking about the subjects and the research strategies they would like to pursue. The middle third of the course (three weeks) will be spent discussing the particular topics students have developed. Each member of the class will have an opportunity to assign a few pages of reading pertaining to the topic, give an overview of the research project, and discuss the issues involved with the rest of the class. In the final third of the course each member of the class will give a ten-minute presentation of the results of his/her research. Written assignments: prospectus and final research paper.