The Social History of Recreation and Leisure, 1850-2000

History R1B.005

Spring 2018
201 Giannini
Day & Time: 
TuTh 5-6:30pm
Class Number: 
  • This course satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement.
  • This course does not count for credit toward the History Major but may fulfill other requirements.
  • What are the connections between play and work, play and everyday life? Where have Americans chosen to go for play, amusement, and relaxation? How did women and racial minorities carve out spaces of leisure during times of discrimination and segregation? How and why has that changed over time? This seminar will examine these questions by looking at the social history of recreation in the American City since 1850. The primary focus will be on the settings for commercial leisure, including the activities, social relations, and ideas behind fairly well-known environments—such as theaters, bars and saloons, department stores, expositions, sports venues, amusement parks, cinemas, gambling, and vice districts. Non-commercial public spaces such as local and national parks, and community centers will also be investigated. Related and overlapping issues will include the tensions between home leisure with familial supervision versus commercial leisure in public social settings; recreation’s role in the crossing of or reinforcement of lines between racial and ethnic groups, age cohorts, genders, and social classes; and, lastly, links between growing individual and personal freedom and cultures of leisure consumption.

    The aim of the seminar is to develop critical reading and writing skills. As part of our course you will read selected books, articles, and primary sources to understand how scholars conceive and argue about recreation and leisure. The course will also serve as an introduction to historical research and will focus on the components of historical thinking: change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency. The first half of the class will require students to write brief essays focused on developing these basic skills. At the end of the course students will demonstrate their mastery of the various components of historical thinking in a clearly written essay.