E Pluribus Barnum: Popular Entertainment in the United States

History 103D.004

Fall 2014
Section: 
004
Location: 
2303 DWINELLE
Day & Time: 
M 12-2P
CCN: 
39402
Units: 
4

This course will explore how ordinary Americans entertained themselves before the early twentieth century. Since 1786, when Charles Wilson Peale founded his museum in Philadelphia as a place for art, lectures, scientific specimens, and natural history objects, Americans have used popular entertainment as a vehicle for both amusement and education. In this class, we will consider how the kinds of entertainment Americans engaged in changed over time, and how the justifications for participating in popular entertainment shifted as well. What did Americans hope to gain from attending a freak show, watching a blackface minstrelsy performance, or buying a ticket to the Chicago World’s Fair? How did popular entertainment reflect, reinforce, or challenge ideas about race, gender, class, science, and national identity? Throughout this semester, we will take seriously what may seem to be trivial, as we consider how historians have used popular entertainment as a lens to examine broader themes of American life.