Popular Entertainment in the United States


Fall 2010


5th Floor Classroom


This course explores the cultural and material history of popular entertainment in the United States from the early 19th century through the mid-20th century as it evolved from a local and rather quiescent mode of production to a dynamic commercial industry. The course charts this larger process by looking at specific cultural forms and material products and sets the development of popular entertainment within the broader social, cultural, and economic framework of U.S. history. Topics covered include the circus, blackface minstrelsy, board games, vaudeville, popular music, film and television. Readings range from classics like Constance Rourke’s American Humor to contemporary cultural studies texts such as Bill Brown’s The Material Unconscious, Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front, and Lynn Spiegel’s Make Room for TV. Additionally, the class will visit several local museum exhibitions and collections. Students will also have an opportunity to contribute to the Bard Graduate Center’s forthcoming exhibition on the history of the American circus. Required assignments include a few short papers, an in-class presentation, and an open-ended final project. 3 credits.