History | History of the American Home
A386 | 27256 | Gamber
A portion of the above class reserved for majors
Above class open to undergraduates and Education MA’s only
What is a “home”? This course considers the changing ways in which
Americans have defined that term from the colonial era to the
present. 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, often 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. If class size permits, we will take at least one field
trip 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?
This course assumes no prior knowledge of American/U.S. history. The
main focus of lectures, discussions, and writing assignments will be
on carefully analyzing primary sources in order to make
interpretations and arguments about the past. A key goal of this
course will be to think both critically and historically
about “home,” a concept that many of us take for granted.
Reading: Most reading (and viewing) assignments will be based on
various kinds 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 of the reading will be available on Oncourse. 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: Regular attendance and active participation are
essential. Students will also complete short weekly quizzes, a
brief research paper (5-7 pages), a midterm, and final. Quizzes and
examinations will be in essay format.