How does experience with popular culture anchor someone in a particular time and place? Defined by one scholar as “the expressive practices of everyday life,” popular culture includes religious rituals, sports spectatorship, foodways, pedagogy, and musical trends. It can be experienced as a national, regional, local, or cultural practice. Depending on the ways in which these “practices” are constructed and by whom, popular culture can make legible, and earn consent for, forms of political, economic, and social power, or it can challenge these forms of power. This course is open to all students intending to write a thesis on popular culture at any period in U.S. history. We will begin the semester by reading selections from historical monographs about American popular culture and analyzing the different methods by which historians have made the everyday more than mundane. With these as models, students will conduct original, primary-source-based research into the construction and reception of a particular iteration of popular culture, asking why it emerged in the U.S. when it did and what messages it disseminated. Projects can focus on thematic developments (such as the emergence of a film genre or the popularity of certain dietary trends) or on the creation and reception of more specific cultural “texts” (such as a specific book or a community festival).
Gabriel Milner is a cultural historian of the United States, particularly popular culture and ideas of nationalism. He has taught courses in Urban History, African American History, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Era at universities around the Bay Area. He is also Project Manager of The Living New Deal, a digital humanities initiative chronicling the legacy and scholarship of the New Deal. He can be reached at gabriel.milner(at)gmail.com.