This program examines the social history of the popular music of the United States from before the Civil War through the present. It will explore the story of the development and modernization of popular music. It will also use popular music as a kind of historical source to survey a broader history of people and politics in the United States. The program will not focus on music performance or musicology, nor will it be a comprehensive survey of all American popular music. Students will not be expected to perform any music, and we will not undertake any aesthetic analysis of music. Instead, the program will expose students to the questions and methods of social history, and apply those to popular music: who produced it and who consumed it? What has popular music signified, and in what ways did its various meanings change over time? What do we learn about the values, choices, and lives of people in the United States—particularly as concerned with power—by exploring the history of American music?
Topics and genres covered will include Victorian parlor music, blackface minstrelsy, ragtime, early jazz, blues, swing, rock and roll, old-time country and bluegrass, the folk revival, disco, hip hop, and the role of social media. We will historicize, consider, and complicate questions of authenticity, regionality, the division of high and low culture, and appropriation. We will have a particular emphasis upon the ways popular music has served as a way to include and exclude along lines of race, gender, and sexuality, with focused explorations of music created by Black Americans, women and queer or gender-non-conforming Americans, and how that music has been popularized and consumed by Americans from less marginalized groups. Classroom activities will include lectures, workshops, and seminars. Program materials and assignments will include academic readings, popular and documentary films, weekly reading workshops, and guided research papers.
Course Reference Numbers
History, American Studies, Cultural Studies, Education