This course examines black popular music from the Civil Rights era to the contemporary moment. Much of the course focuses on the musical practices of African Americans; however our readings and discussions take seriously the deep connections between African American musical practices and other modes of cultural exchange within black diasporic communities in the United States and beyond.
Twenty-five years ago, on November 9, 1989, a bureaucratic mix-up allowed crowds of East Germans to cross the Berlin Wall. The subsequent scenes of dancing and celebration have become the defining image of the fall of communism, shown on television screens around the world. Yet the focus on one momentous event obscures the fact that the fall of communism was a long and gradual process, one that began well before 1989 and still continues today. This course will examine the roots, causes, and aftermath of communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We will consider economic stagnation and abortive attempts at reform; political crises and the rise of dissident movements; cultural exchange and the influence of mass media; and the role of social and nationalist activism.
Throughout, we will pay particular attention to the meaning and impact of the Cold War. Communism aspired to be a systematic alternative to the capitalist world, with its own principles of morality, work, and leisure. For this reason, contact between East and West presented a particular challenge for communist regimes and played a crucial role in their development. We will explore how the imperative of global competition drove communist policies at home and abroad; how communist leaders tried to respond to Western influences; and how the Cold War framework shaped the transition from communism to democracy. In so doing, we will come to see that the fall of communism was not a singular event but rather a lengthy process of raising the Iron Curtain.
In this course, students will engage with several key themes in the history of North America and the United States from pre-Columbian times (the era before 1492) through the end of the American Civil War. We will explore social, economic, religious, and political changes during the period in which North America became colonized by Europeans and, later, British America became the United States. This era in American history was characterized by a series of transformative crises: in England and Europe prompting the initial European settlement of the Americas, in the thirteen colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in the late eighteenth century, and over the extent and meaning of the new United States and its Constitution in subsequent decades. This long period was characterized by meetings of different peoples from around the Atlantic World, a series of innovations and contests over how to govern the broad territory of North America, and the emergence of a new culture that, while primarily reflecting the European influence on the continent, nevertheless was distinctively “American” in important ways.
A primary emphasis of this course will be learning and practicing how to identify, interpret, and create a historical argument. Most of the readings for this course, rather that offering a textbook-style narrative, will allow us to dig deeper into the key themes of the course rather than focusing on memorization of dates and IDs. (Standard exams based on this kind of memorization will only be a small portion of the final grade.) An essential goal of the course will be helping students to become better thinkers and writers through weekly class discussion and several writing assignments.