E Pluribus Barnum: Popular Entertainment in the United States

History 103D.004

Fall 2017
3104 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
M 10-12
Class Number: 

This course will explore how ordinary Americans gathered together in museums, fairgrounds, theatres, and stadiums to entertain themselves before the twenty-first century. Since 1786, when Charles Wilson Peale opened his museum in Philadelphia as a place for audiences to encounter art, lectures, scientific specimens, and natural history objects, Americans have sought out popular entertainment for both amusement and education. In this class, we will consider how the kinds of entertainment Americans engaged in has changed over time, but also how the justifications for attending events and performances have shifted, too. What did Americans hope to gain from watching a blackface minstrelsy performance in 1843, buying a ticket to a world's fair in 1915, or attending a music festival in 1969? 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 can use popular entertainment as a lens to examine major themes of American life.This seminar is also designed to prepare students to write a 101 in the spring. The major writing assignment will be a proposal for a 101 thesis: framing a topic, locating a primary source base, and thinking about how to locate your topic in the context of key secondary literature. I will be teaching a 101 on the same subject in the spring, and students are strongly encouraged to consider this 103 and that 101 as a sequence.