Course Details

050:310:01 - Approaches: “The Invention of Modern Life”

  • Course ID: 050:310:01
  • Credits: 3
  • Instructor Name: Williamson
  • Instructor (Core Faculty): Williamson, Colin
  • SAS Core Curriculum Goals: WCd

This course explores core and enduring themes in the American imagination—progress, movement, innovation, power, etc.—by looking at the landscapes of modern life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. From the so-called closing of the frontier and the popularity of world fairs and P.T. Barnum’s hoaxes to the emergence of amusement parks and the proliferation of slapstick comedy films by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, we will consider how questions and concerns about rapidly changing ways of life in the United States were negotiated in the visual cultures of the period. Because studies of modern life draw on film studies, art history, anthropology, cultural studies, and literature, we will use that framework to build a foundation for understanding the interdisciplinary scope and methods of American Studies. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with the central approaches to the field, and to encourage students to explore and apply these approaches in their own work; every student should leave this class feeling prepared for more-advanced work.