English C136

Topics in American Studies: A Gallery of Wonders, Curiosities, Spectacles, Cynics, and Suckers: Consumer Culture in Post-Civil War America

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2009 McQuade, Donald
McQuade, Donald
MW 4-5:30 170 Barrows

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This course will focus on the interrelations of the rise of consumerism and the culture industry in post-Civil War America. We will examine a wide range of materials, including advertisements (especially patent medicine ads), trade cards, commercial art and photography, dime novels, other best sellers as well as literary works, popular magazines, amusement parks and large-scale exhibitions. The course will begin with the remarkable and long-lived career of P. T. Barnum, at times a moral reformer, a habitual hoaxer, an insightful critic, a savvy expert at “puffery,” a master of images, and an impresario who transcended local cultural markets to cultivate a powerful and profitable presence on the national and global stage. We will end with The Columbian Exposition, a World's Fair held in Chicago to observe the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World as well as to celebrate America’s belief in its exceptionalism and its industrial and cultural optimism. Along the way, we will read generous selections from The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader as well as novels by Horatio Alger (Ragged Dick, Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks), Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), Orison Swett Marden (Pushing to the Front), and Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward), as well as such texts as Russell Conwell’s “Acres of Diamonds” (one of the most successful “sermons” on the sanctity of wealth), and selections from Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps, and Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia,” among others. Throughout the course, we will consider the ways in which consumerism sponsored major economic, political, social, and cultural changes in the everyday lives of Americans in the late-nineteenth century.

This course is cross-listed with American Studies C111E, Section 2.

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