Studies in American Cultural History:

The History of the Middle Class

Sarah McNair Vosmeier

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In this course, we will make historical arguments about the culture of the American middle class, using primary sources and secondary sources to support those arguments.

With a working understanding of the terms highlighted above, we can look more closely at how the middle class has behaved and expressed itself from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present. Aspects of middle-class culture we will consider include work life, college life, housing, and everyday behavior; our sources will include material culture as well as documents.

While middle-class culture has long seemed central to American identity, historians and others have rarely been clear about what they mean by the middle class or by middle-class culture. We will try to do better.

Calculating Final Grades

Transcription project 12%

Exhibit project 13%

Primary source analysis 20%

Midterm 20%

Final 25%

Participation 10%

Nota Bene

Our class time provides an opportunity, rare in modern life, to focus for an extended time on a single task and conversation.  Please do not multitask -- to avoid distraction for others and temptation for ourselves, we will not use laptops, cell phones, etc. in our classroom.  You will need to bring assigned texts to class in paper form.  If you need to be an exception to this policy, contact me at the beginning of the term.

Late papers will be penalized, and in-class assignments cannot be made up.  If you have an emergency and want to request an exception to this rule, contact me before the due date.

About items needed for this class:

All assigned readings are available on reserve at the Duggan Library or online. Our discussions will be based on close readings of those texts, and you will need notes on the texts in the form of marginalia. Thus, you should budget appropriately for printing and photocopying in addition to the books you purchase. The following are available at the bookstore:

Books Available at the Bookstore
Diana Hacker, Rules for Writers (2008)
David Brooks, On Paradise Drive (2004)
Marina Moskowitz, Standard of Living (2004)

About Writing Assignments, Exams, and Participation:

Writing Assignments

Transcription project: You will transcribe a portion of a manuscript from the Duggan Library Archives and put it in historical context (450-900 words).

Exhibit project: Our class is responsible for mounting a small exhibit (at the Duggan Library) on hotel silverplate; you will identify one of the items and provide historical context for it, and you will collaborate in writing an exhibit label for it.

Final paper:  You will make a historical argument about college life as a subculture of American middle-class culture, supporting your argument with analysis of an assigned primary source and others of your own choosing (1600-3000 words).  


The exams will include identifications and essay questions.

Participation and Preparation
This class depends on everyone's preparing and participating fully.  People who excel in participation show evidence of preparing carefully for class; they make useful comments in discussion or ask helpful questions; and they facilitate others' success as well.     
    Occasional brief assignments -- such as marginalia checks or study guide contributions -- allow you to demonstrate careful preparation for discussion, and they also facilitate our common endeavors.  


Introduction, Definitions, and Background

Sep. 5, 2016 (Mon.)    "Defining Terms" (lecture).
Sep. 7, 2016 (Wed.)   
Vosmeier, "On Marginalia," 2014 (online); Siegel, "The Difficulty of Defining What 'Middle Class' Is," 2010 (online); Vosmeier, "Thinking about Class in History," 2012 (handout).
Sep. 9, 2016 (Fri.)    "Documents for Thinking about Culture and History," 1851, 1859, 1974, 2002, 2006 

Sep. 12, 2016 (Mon.)    Research Workshop: Newspapers.  Meet in the Duggan Library Archives.
Sep. 14, 2016 (Wed.)    Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848
(excerpt online)

Sep. 16, 2016 (Fri.)    Writing Workshop: Use of Sources.  "Chicago Manual Footnote Style"  (online). Hacker assignment t.b.a.  Meet in the Learning Center.

Origins of the American Middle Class

Sep. 19, 2016 (Mon.)    "Origins of the American Middle Class" (lecture). Vosmeier, "On E.P. Thompson," 2014 (handout).
Sep. 21, 2016 (Wed.)    Goloboy, "The Early American Middle Class," 2005
  (pdf download).

Sep. 23, 2016 (Fri.)    "College Life: The Nineteenth Century" (lecture); "College Life at the University of North Carolina, 1795-1845"

Sep. 26, 2016 (Mon.)    Research Workshop: Historical detective work. Meet in the Duggan Library Archives.   Transcription project: Transcription due in class.

The Middle Class, 1850-1900

Sep. 28, 2016 (Wed.)    "Late Nineteenth-Century America" (lecture).
Sep. 30, 2016 (Fri.)    Workshop: Discussion with Homecoming alumni. "Life at Hanover in the 1960s and 1970s" (online).

Oct. 3, 2016 (Mon.)    Zakim, "The Business Clerk as Social Revolutionary," 2006 (pdf download); Spencer, Practical Penmanship, 1869  (online). Material Culture Workshop: writing tools.  Transcription project: Essay due.
Oct. 5, 2016 (Wed.)    Kasson, "Disciplining the Audience," 1990
(online); Headley, "Pen and Pencil Sketches of the Great Riots," 1873  (excerpt online); Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885 (excerpt online). 
Oct. 7, 2016 (Fri.)    McCarthy, "Class Struggle in the Parlor," 2008 
(online -- click on "pdf full text").  Material culture workshop: china.

Oct. 10, 2016 (Mon.)    Alling diary, 1883-1884 (excerpt online).
Oct. 12, 2016 (Wed.)    Review.
Oct. 14, 2016 (Fri.)    Midterm exam.

Winter Break

Oct. 19, 2016 (Wed.)    Moskowitz, Standard of Living, 19-63.  Material culture workshop: flatware.
Oct. 21, 2016 (Fri.)    Assignment t.b.a.

Oct. 24, 2016 (Mon.)    Research workshop: Hotel silverplate. Meet in the Duggan Library Archives.

The Middle Class through World War II

Oct. 26, 2016 (Wed.)    "Early Twentieth-Century America" (lecture).   Material culture workshop: writing tools.
Oct. 28, 2016 (Fri.)    Writing workshop: Exhibit labels.  McKay, "Labels," 1982
(online).   Exhibit project: Essay due in class.

Oct. 31, 2016 (Mon.) "College Life: Through World War II" (lecture). "Chapter Houses," 1894 (excerpt online); Hanover College news, 1903 (online); College Equal Suffrage League news, 1912 (online); Hanover Songs, 1924 (online).
Nov. 2, 2016 (Wed.) Exhibit project: Labels due.
Nov. 4, 2016 (Fri.) Moskowitz, 220-238; Peixotto, Getting & Spending, 1927 (excerpt online).

Nov. 7, 2016 (Mon.)    Smith,"Childhood, the Body, and Race Performance," 2006 (online-- click on "pdf full text")

The Middle Class since World War II
Nov. 9, 2016 (Wed.)    "Recent American History" (lecture).   Mills, White Collar, 1951(online); Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie, 1957 (on reserve, 26-28, 168-72, 176-84, 192-95).
Nov. 11, 2016 (Fri.)    Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, 2001 (on reserve pp. 1-19, 107-10, 191-98, 227-36, 247-53).

Nov. 14, 2016 (Mon.)    "College Life since World War II" (lecture). "Life at Hanover in the 1960s and 1970s" (online).
Nov. 16, 2016 (Wed.)    Giddings, "Education, Race, and Reality," 1990 (online -- click on "download pdf); "Integration and Civil Rights on Midwestern Campuses" (online).
Nov. 18, 2016 (Fri.)    Brooks, Paradise Drive, 2004 (pp. 142-45, 153-65, 173-85). 

Nov. 21, 2016 (Mon.)    Final paper due.


Nov. 28, 2016 (Mon.)    "Chapter Houses," 1894 (excerpt online);  Gelber, "Do-It-Yourself," 1997 (online -- choose "download pdf").
Nov. 30, 2016 (Wed.)    Brooks,  pp. 38-64, 69-74.
Dec. 2, 2016 (Fri.)    Brooks, pp. 74-95, 106-110, 246-48, 267-75, 278-81.

Dec. 5, 2016 (Mon.)    "The Giant Pool of Money" 2008 (online).
Dec. 7, 2016 (Wed.)    Further discussion of 2008 financial crisis.
Dec. 9, 2016 (Fri.)    Review.