Culture as History


Fall 2013, Winter 2014 and Spring 2014 quarters

Taught by

English literature
theatre, opera, film, performance studies

What is culture and how does it inform our understanding and interpretation of history?  As we explore this question, students will study works of fiction, film, visual art and history to determine how our culture shapes our ideas about past and present realities.  Each quarter students will incorporate quantitative methods to enrich and explain aspects of American culture.  We’ll look at cultural products, from high art to popular culture with a particular focus on film and literature, to see how they reflect and shape our ideas about who and what we are. Our study will be organized around three turbulent decades in American history.

During Fall Quarter, we considered the post-Civil War years, including Reconstruction and western expansion.  From dime novels to Hollywood westerns, we examined how deeply we are shaped by 19th and 20th century frontier ideology.  Money and technology—capitalism and the railroads—also drove westward migration.  We analyzed the tensions around race and class as they figure in film, novels, and popular culture.

Winter quarter, we will move to the 1930s.  How did the Great Depression and the policy created to deal with that crisis change the way we see government?  What was the impact of two great migrations—from the dust bowl states to the West, and from the agricultural South to the industrial north—on American society?  In such a time of hardship and deprivation, how did the Golden Age of Hollywood reflect our cultural realities through genre films, such as the screwball comedy, the musical, and the gangster film?

In the spring, we’ll focus on the 1950s and ‘60s and how upward—and outward—mobility informed who and where we are today.  The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War transformed the country.  Cars, freeways, and the rise of the suburbs re-shaped the cultural landscape, and television expanded the scope of mass media and popular culture.

Our work will include critical reading of books and films. Students will be expected to learn about schools of cultural criticism, using different approaches to enrich their analyses. They will be expected to participate in seminar, lectures, workshops, and library research and to attend field trips to local museums and live theater performances.

The thread of mathematics runs through the tapestry of everything we’ll study in Culture as History.  Often times, in a non-math/science interdisciplinary program, even though the threads are there, they are never seen but lay hidden.  In Culture as History, we’ll work to pull some of these threads forward – to brighten the image and sharpen the focus of the topics we’ll study.  The mathematical threads that we choose to pull forward will be carefully chosen to gently enhance the image. Through collaborative learning, the mathematical topics we’ll engage with include quantitative literacy (reading and interpreting information), graph theory (How far is it to New York?), and other topics as appropriate. 

Credits may be awarded in American studies (literature, art and history), moving image, and mathematics.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

literature, history, film studies, education

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Evening and Weekend

Advertised schedule: 6-9p Mon (12 credit student only); All students meet 6-9:30p Wed, 10a-5p Sat (5 Saturdays per quarter, fall: Oct. 12, 26, Nov. 9, 16, Dec. 7; winter: Jan 11, 25, Feb 8, 22, Mar 8; spring Apr 12, 26, May 3, 10, 24)


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Required Fees

$25 per quarter for museum/theatre entrance fees


Date Revision
February 13th, 2014 Saturday, May 3 class added, June 7 class dropped
October 31st, 2013 Spring Quarter Saturday dates added.
September 27th, 2013 Winter Quarter Saturday dates added.
September 5th, 2013 12 credit option added for each quarter.
May 9th, 2013 Description updated.
May 9th, 2013 Schedule changed to meet Wednesdays and five Saturdays.

Registration Information

Credits: 8, 12 (Fall); 8, 12 (Winter); 8, 12 (Spring)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (8 credits): 10015
So - Sr (12 credits): 10456

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Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Faculty signature required for 12 credit CRN only.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (8 credits): 20006
So - Sr (12 credits): 20287

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Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (8 credits): 30005
So - Sr (12 credits): 30247

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