HI 193 “American Carnival,” Fall 2010 Tues & Thurs 10:00 am, S-305
What might we learn about American culture and history from observing Americans at leisure?
What do our commercial amusements tell us about the past, and about ourselves?
In this course, we will look closely at the social fringes of American life – at people who escaped (or were cast off) from respectable society and found careers, meaning, and profit in the world of American amusements. Some, because of physical difference or abilities, found careers as sideshow freaks or performers. Others peddled salvation, hawked entertainments, told fortunes, or literally picked pockets. Beginning in the early 19th century, Americans of all social classes flocked to commercialized amusements like traveling tent shows, dime museums, and agricultural fairs. Amusements made the careers of prominent Americans from Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley to P.T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey. By the 20th century, these amusements had become big business – and at the very moment that the old traveling shows began to decline, there arose in their place a network of permanent amusement parks, resorts, and entertainment venues that, in part, were built on nostalgia for the fast-fading old world of the circus and which took advantage of Americans’ new automobile culture in postwar America–such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Busch Gardens. From the 1870s to the 1960s, World’s Fairs displayed American industrial prowess, racial values, and commercial products that have since become staples of American culture. Music festivals granted us important collective memories and the suffixes -Stock and -Palooza. Some cities in America still depend almost entirely on the marketing of entertainment (legal or otherwise), including Branson, Missouri; Las Vegas, Nevada, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
As our course takes us on a tour in time and place through the carnival of American culture, you will develop your critical thinking and writing skills through a series of explorations (“labs”) designed to familiarize you with the tools and sources used in history and cultural studies. Those skills will help you see your own nation from a new perspective. As a first-year seminar, the course is also designed to give you an introduction to the rigors, joys, and challenges of college life. We will help you navigate your high school-to-college transition and explore ways to achieve academic and personal success.
This course is in the “Thought, Language and Culture” LASC content area.
Professor Contact Info:
e: thangen (at) worcester.edu = preferred way to contact me