History | From Ragtime to Rap
A383 | 28342 | M. McGerr

A portion of the above class reserved for majors; open to
undergraduates and Education MA's only.

What can the lives and music of Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong,
Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rodgers, Patsy Montana, Frank Sinatra, Elvis
Presley, James Brown, Helen Reddy, Grandmaster Flash, and Queen
Latifah tell us about modern America?  How can hip-hop and be-bop
help us to understand some of the critical issues in the history of
the United States?  This course answers these questions by studying
the ways in which popular music has been tightly interwoven with
American life from the late-nineteenth century to the present.

Rather than focus on musicological analysis, the class uses the
history of popular music to explore issues in the social, cultural,
political, and economic history of the modern United States.
Stressing comparisons across time and space, we will examine a broad
range of musical cultures from the late nineteenth century to the
present, including ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, swing, blues,
country, rhythm and blues, folk, rock and roll, soul, rap, and
others.  Throughout, the course considers the inter-relationship
between music, on the one hand, and class, gender, race, ethnicity,
and generation, on the other.  The course also investigates the ways
in which musical genres have been affected by economic developments
such as corporations and consumerism and by technological
developments from player pianos to digitization.  We will discuss
the role of popular music in myth-making about America.  And we will
study whether popular music has fostered or thwarted democracy.  Our
emphasis is always on the ways in which music affects and reflects

Course Goals
In developing your understanding of the issues listed above, this
class pursues the aims common to upper-level history lecture
courses.  You will increase your ability to analyze different kinds
of evidence, to think historically, to recognize how the past
conditions the present and the future, and to express yourself in

Course Prerequisites
There are no formal prerequisites for this course, but it does build
on the material and approaches developed in the second half of the
introductory U.S. history survey, H106.  If you havenít taken H106
or a course on the U.S. in the late nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, you may find it useful to read through the relevant
chapters in a textbook such as James Oakes et al, Of the People: A
History of the United States.

There is no textbook; instead we will use the kinds of primary
evidence, including musical examples and films,that historians use
in their work.  All required readings, musical examples, and short
films will be available on-line at the course website.  The required
feature film, The Jazz Singer (1927), will be on reserve in the
Wells Library.  There will be several short papers, a few quizzes, a
mid-term exam, and a final exam.