History | History of the American Home
J300 | 3118 | Gamber
A portion of the above section reserved for majors
Above section COAS intensive writing section and also requires
registration in COAS W333
Above section open to undergraduates only
What is a “home”? This course considers the changing ways in which
Americans have defined that term. We’ll examine colonial
households, idealized nineteenth-century middle-class
homes, “modern” homes of the early twentieth century, post-World War
II suburbia, and (briefly) ideas about “home” today. Along the way
we’ll also explore various places that cultural authorities defined,
sometimes erroneously, as something other than “homes.” These
included slave cabins, tenements, boardinghouses, apartments,
orphanages, college dormitories, and communes. We will also briefly
examine the history of homelessness in America. We will take
two “field trips” to examine homes in the Bloomington community.
We will think about the home (and its alternatives) as buildings,
workplaces, and cultural ideals. What did Americans in various
periods mean by “home”? Has “home” ever been separate from “work”?
Which sorts of places and households qualified as “homes,” which did
not, and why? Who had the authority to define “home”? How did ideas
about architectural style and the uses of space influence these
definitions? To what extent did people who lived in alternative
places conceive of their residences as “homes”? To what extent did
they reject dominant notions of “home”? What has it meant to
be “homeless” in American society? Our primary aim will be to think
both critically and historically about “home,” a concept that most
of us take for granted.
Reading: Most reading (and viewing) assignments will be based on
various sorts of primary sources (sources produced by people in the
past), including designs and blueprints, songs, television shows,
illustrations, advertisements, photographs, household manuals,
cookbooks, diaries, letters, fiction, and buildings themselves.
Most reading will be available on e-reserves. Students will also be
required to purchase two books, Gwendolyn Wright’s Building the
Dream and Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives.
Requirements: Active participation in class discussions; short
weekly writing assignments (averaging 2-3 pages); a document
description (approximately 3-5 pages) of a recipe from a nineteenth-
century cookbook; a brief research essay (3-5 pages) related to any
issue concerning the history of the American home in any time
period; and a take-home final (approximately 4-6 pages) that will
ask you to consider how the American home and its alternatives have
changed--or not changed--over time.