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.
(Laptops will be useful during scheduled workshops, however.)

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 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.   (My class records show that the printing costs associated with marginalia pay off in significantly better grades.)  The following are available at the bookstore:

Books Available at the Bookstore:
Diana Hacker, Rules for Writers (2016)
Marina Moskowitz, Standard of Living (2004)

Andrew Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks (2002)
David Brooks, On Paradise Drive (2005)

About Writing Assignments, Exams, and Participation:

Writing Assignments

Transcription project: You will transcribe a portion of a manuscript from the Duggan Library Archives and write a short essay putting 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 a piece of silverplate and write a short essay putting it in historical context (450-900 words).  Then you will collaborate in writing an exhibit label for the item.

Primary source analysis:  You will make a historical argument about college life as a subculture of American middle-class culture, supporting your argument with primary sources (1800-3000 words).   


The exams will include identifications and essay questions.

Participation and Preparation
    We will all enjoy our time together more and find our work more rewarding if everyone prepares and participates fully.  People who excel in participation read carefully and come to class with effective reading notes; they make useful comments in class or ask helpful questions, and they facilitate others’ participation as well; they also complete brief assignments included in this portion of the grade adequately and on time.   
    Occasional brief assignments – including marginalia checks, study guide contributions, and other small projects – allow you to demonstrate careful preparation for discussion, and they facilitate our common endeavors.  


Introduction, Definitions, and Background
Sep. 3, 2018 (Mon.)    "Defining Terms" (lecture).
Sep. 5, 2018 (Wed.)    Vosmeier, "On Marginalia," 2015 (online); Luhby and Baker, "What Is Middle Class, Anyway?" 2016 (online);  Vosmeier, "Thinking about Class in History," 2012 (handout).
Sep. 7, 2018 (Fri.)    "Documents for Thinking about Culture and History," 1851, 1859, 1974, 2002, 2006 (online).

Sep. 10, 2018 (Mon.)    Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848 (excerpt online). 

Origins of the American Middle Class
Sep. 12, 2018 (Wed.)    "Origins of the American Middle Class" (lecture). Vosmeier, "On E.P. Thompson," 2014 (handout).
Sep. 14, 2018 (Fri.)    Goloboy, "The Early American Middle Class," 2005 (online -- click on "PDF full text" to the left, and print out).

Sep. 17, 2018 (Mon.)    "College Life: The Nineteenth Century" (lecture). "College Life at the University of North Carolina, 1795-1845" (online).

The Middle Class, 1850-1900 
Sep. 19, 2018 (Wed.)    "Late Nineteenth-Century America" (lecture).
Sep. 21, 2018 (Fri.)    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).  

Sep. 24, 2018 (Mon.)    Research workshop: historical detective work. Meet in Duggan Library Archives.   Transcription due.
Sep. 26, 2018 (Wed.)    Writing workshop: "Use of Sources."  "Style Guide for Chicago Manual Footnotes" (online); Hacker, Rules for Writers, ch. 51, 54.  Meet in the Learning Center.
Sep. 28, 2018 (Fri.)    Zakim, "The Business Clerk as Social Revolutionary," 2006  (pdf download);  Spencer, Practical Penmanship, 1869 (excerpt (online).   Material culture workshop: writing tools. 

Oct. 1, 2018 (Mon.)    Alling diary, 1883-1884 (excerpt online).  Transcription essay due.
Oct. 3, 2018 (Wed.)    McCarthy, "Class Struggle in the Parlor," 2008 (online -- click on "pdf full text" to the left and print out).  Material culture workshop: china.
Oct. 5, 2018 (Fri.)    Mahady, "Dominance of the Fittest," 2002 (online -- click on "pdf full text" to the left and print out).

Oct. 8, 2018 (Mon.)    Review.
Oct. 10, 2018 (Wed.)    Midterm exam.

The Middle Class in Museums and Archives
Oct. 12, 2018 (Fri.)    Moskowitz, Standard of Living, 2004 (pp. 19-63).  Material culture workshop: flatware.

Fall  Break

Oct. 17, 2018 (Wed.)    Research workshop: hotel silverplate.  Meet in Duggan Library Archives.
Oct. 19, 2018 (Fri.)    "Clothes and the College Student" (lecture).  Material culture workshop: photo analysis.

The Middle Class through World War II 
Oct. 22, 2018 (Mon.)    "Early Twentieth-Century America" (lecture).   Material culture workshop: writing tools.
Oct. 24, 2018 (Wed.)    Writing workshop: Exhibit labels.  Romanowski, Exhibit Label Script Guidelines," 2015 (online pp. 3-9).    Exhibit project: Essay due in class.
Oct. 26, 2018 (Fri.)    Assignment t.b.a.

Oct. 29, 2018 (Mon.)    Bibliographic Instruction.  Meet in Duggan Library computer lab.
Oct. 31, 2018 (Wed.)    "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 (excerpt online).
Nov. 2, 2018 (Fri.)    Moskowitz, 220-238; Peixotto, Getting & Spending, 1927 (excerpt online).

Nov. 5, 2018 (Mon.)   Smith,"Childhood, the Body, and Race Performance," 2006 (online -- click on "pdf full text" to the left and print out)
Nov. 7, 2018 (Wed.)    Anderson, "Beautiful New Homes," 2013 (online -- click on "pdf full text" to the left and print out).

The Middle Class since World War II
Nov. 9, 2018 (Fri.)    "Recent American History" (lecture).   Mills, White Collar, 1951(online); Green, The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1948 edition (online).

Nov. 12, 2018 (Mon.)    Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, 2001 (on reserve: pp. 1-19, 107-10, 191-98, 227-36, 247-53).
Nov. 14, 2018 (Wed.)    "Chapter Houses," 1894 (excerpt online);  Gelber, "Do-It-Yourself," 1997 (online -- choose "download pdf").
Nov. 16, 2018 (Fri.)    "College Life:  Since World War II" (lecture). "Additional Information for Soldiers," 1944 (online); "Town and Gown in Jefferson County, 1969-1970" (online).

Nov. 19, 2018 (Mon.)    Primary source analysis due.


Nov. 26, 2018 (Mon.)    Simpson, Above the Shots, 2016 (Part Three: "A Bullet is a Drastic Answer," pp. 79-113, online).  Meet in the Duggan Archives.
Nov. 28, 2018 (Wed.)    Brooks, Paradise Drive, 2004 (on reserve: pp. 142-45, 153-65, 173-85).   Additional assignment t.b.a.
        N.B.: Nov. 28 film screening, 3:00, Classic 102.
Nov. 30, 2018 (Fri.)     Discussion of film t.b.a.

Dec. 3, 2018 (Mon.)    Brooks,  pp. 38-63, 69-77; Davidson and Blumberg, "Global Pool of Money Got Too Hungry," 2008 (online).
Dec. 5, 2018 (Wed.)    Reeves, Dream Hoarders, 2017 (excerpt online).
Dec. 7, 2018 (Fri.)    Review.