Culture as History

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Fall 2017, Winter 2018, and Spring 2018 quarters

Taught by

English language and literature
theatre, opera, film, performance studies
English literature

Our national myths and cultural icons will provide the lens through which we will examine American history in this yearlong program. Students will study diverse works in order to learn how our culture shapes our understanding of past and present realities. 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 will consider the post-Civil War years, to include Reconstruction and western expansion. From dime novels to Hollywood westerns, we’ll examine how deeply we are shaped by 19th and 20th century frontier ideology. Money and technology—capitalism and the railroads—also drove westward migration. We’ll explore the tensions around race and class as they figure in film, novels, and popular culture.

In winter we'll 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 reshaped the cultural landscape, and television expanded the scope of mass media and popular culture.

Students will learn about schools of cultural criticism using different approaches to enrich their analyses. They will participate in seminars, lectures, workshops, and library research—and attend field trips to local museums and live theater performances.

Program Details

Fields of Study

cultural studies history literature media studies


Fall Open Winter Open Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Final Schedule and Room Assignment

Campus Location


Time Offered

Evening and Weekend

Advertised Schedule

Wednesdays from 6-9:30 pm and five alternating Saturdays.  Fall Saturdays Oct 7, 21, Nov 4, 18, and Dec 2. Winter Saturdays Jan 20, Feb 3, 10, 24, Mar 10. Spring Saturdays April 14, 28, May 5, 19, June 2. 

Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online


A $30 fee each quarter will cover the cost of field trips to museums and other venues.