History | Ragtime to Rap
A383 | 3115 | McGerr

Course Description
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, and Grandmaster Flash, and Queen Latifah
tell us about modern America?  How can be-bop and hip-hop 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 fosters 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 work to increase your ability to think
historically, to recognize how the past conditions the present and
the future, to read, watch, and listen critically, and to express
yourself on paper and in discussion.

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 have not 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 Jeanne Boydston et al, Making a
Nation: A History of the United States.

Assigned Readings & Films
The required textbook—Larry Starr & Christopher Waterman, American
Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV—is available for purchase at
the Indiana Memorial Union bookstore.  The other required readings
are available on-line at the course website.  The four required films—
The Jazz Singer (1927), Birth of the Blues, Jailhouse Rock, and
Rappin’—will be screened for the class outside of regular course
hours, as noted in the schedule below.  In addition, copies of the
films are available for individual viewing in the Main Library.