Who Built America? Working-Class People, Culture, and Identity

MWF1 9:30-11:00 am

Maia Surdam

This course is all about work. Its title poses a question that will launch us on a journey of historical inquiry and cultural analysis throughout the semester. Who built America? How has the labor of working-class people shaped the United States? How have working people themselves understood and represented their lot? How do you, as workers in the 21st-century U.S., construct identities as laboring people? What do we mean when we talk about “social class” or “working-class” people, anyway?

Working people’s experiences have been diverse and their contributions to American society far-reaching. To grapple with this rich history, we will consult a broad set of materials, including essays, short stories, songs, video, oral histories, and other primary sources. For example, we will turn to author Willa Cather, radio host Studs Terkel, critical theorist bell hooks, and many more writers and workers with lesser-known names and stories. We will explore themes of labor through close reading, discussion, and writing. Assignments will likely include journal entries, short essays (critical analysis and memoir), and a historical research paper.

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