Course Details

050:389:01 - Junior Seminar: The Rise and Fall of the American Middle Class

  • Course ID: 050:389:01
  • Credits: 3
  • Instructor Name: Backes
  • Instructor (Core Faculty): Backes, Matt
  • SAS Core Curriculum Goals: WCr, WCd

The idea of an expansive and powerful middle class has special resonance in the United States. Nearly all Americans identify themselves as part of this mysteriously inclusive middle. Observers have often claimed that the United States is somehow middle class at its core, and many have even posited a fundamental connection between middle-class status and national destiny. But both the actual and the mythical middle class have had a complex, turbulent history and continue to mark out a terrain more of conflict than consensus. This course examines the history and culture of the middle class in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. We begin with the emergence of a powerful and self-conscious bourgeoisie in the late eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century, continue with the trials and consolidation of middle-class authority in the late nineteenth century on up to the post-WWII period, and conclude with a long look at the crisis (real and imagined) of the middle class over the past fifty years. Our goal will be to develop a working knowledge of the history and current shape of the middle class as a social formation as well as a cultural and ideological question.