Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Automobile and American Life -- Senior Seminar Syllabus, Spring, 2014

Hi folks -- here is a draft of the syllabus I will be using the coming spring term.  Comments and criticisms are welcome!


The Automobile, the Road, and American Life
Class Meeting: Wednesday, 3:00-5:50 p.m.
HM 468

Instructor: Dr. John A. Heitmann
Office: HM 435
Telephone: x92803
Office Hours:
MW10-10:50 a.m., W 2-2:50 p.m., or by appointment.

It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this seminar we will explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition that we will study, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate.  It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.

Required Texts:

John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life (McFarland, 2009).
Warren Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-194 (Johns Hopkins, 1999).
            Jack Keroauc, On the Road (Penguin, 1997).
            John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America (Penguin, 2012).
Grades: Course work will consist of seminar lectures, discussions, presentations, films, and optional field trips to the Packard Museum and the Taj Garag. Grades will be based on class discussion and 3 three page book review papers (45%), an assigned article class presentation (15%) and a research paper (40%).

            In this class we will define the seminar as a shared learning experience in which one of its purposes is to create new knowledge. Therefore, the research paper is the most significant assignment of this course. It should critically explore an area of knowledge related to the automobile and American life, and ideally should be 10 pages double spaced in length, with additional footnotes and bibliography, and furthermore draw on minimally 15 sources, primary and secondary. I plan to meet with you individually and collectively during the semester to ensure that your topic has a proper focus and that sources are readily available for your project. A late paper will be penalized one-half letter grade per day.


Among the term paper topics are the following suggestions:

The Automobile and World War I
The American Auto Industry in China before WWII
The Architecture of Early Automobile Plants
George Romney and American Motors
A Reassessment of the Life of Henry Ford II
General Motors at Lordstown, Ohio and Labor Issues
Dayton, Ohio as a "GM Town"
Fast Women -- Women Race Drivers (The Bugatti Queen, Denise McCluggage, and others)
Women as Depicted in Automobile Advertising during the 1970s (you should narrow down the decades)
Seat Belts (or the Airbag, or Crumple Zones) and the Coming of Automobile Safety
Auto Racing -- any era
A History of the Driver's License
African-Americans living in the South and the Automobile during the 1920s
The American Drive-In
The Promise and Ultimate Disappointment with the Rotary Wankel Engine
Automation and the Post-WWII American Auto Industry
The VW Comes to America
The Automobile and American Literature
The Automobile and Film -- any era
The "Fast and Furious" Franchise
Music about the Automobile or about Highways -- From Race Music to Rock and Roll
Drinking and Driving in the 20th Century
Hip-Hop and Cars – themes and artists
Elon Musk and the Coming of the Tesla Motor Car

            My book The Automobile and American Life is our key common reading in this class and the touchstone for our discussions. While you will not be tested on this reading, you will be responsible for reading this book and critically commenting on it in class.
            Additionally, you must select from the syllabus an article that you will report on to the class at the scheduled time. All articles listed are on Isidore; you are to prepare a 20-30 minute presentation in which you discuss the author’s main theme(s), the subject topic of the book and its central narrative, and finally your own assessment of this book and how it enhanced(or stultified) your knowledge and interest in the history of the automobile in America.

Schedule of Assignments and Class Meetings

Week 1 — January 13
Introduction. What our cars tell us about ourselves. The automobile and its inherent contradictionsThe automobile in art and as art.
            Reading: Heitmann, Introduction.
            Film:  “Wild Wheels”

Week 2 — January 22
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 1.
            Film: “Horatio’s Drive”
Article Report(s): James J. Flink, "Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness," American Quarterly, 24 (October, 1972), 451-473; Pamela Walker Laird, '"The Car Without a Single Weakness," Early Automobile Advertising," Technology &
            Culture, 37 (October, 1996), 796-812.

Week 3 — January 29
            Henry Ford, Fordism, and the Model T.
            Reading:  Heitmann, Chapter 2
            Films:  Mack Sennet, “Gussle’s Day of Rest( 1915).”
“California Straight Ahead,” (1925).
            Article report(s): Christopher Wells, "The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road                  
            Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age," Technology          
            & Culture, 48 (July, 2007), 497-523; Kevin Borg, "'The "Chauffeur Problem' in the
            Early Auto Era: Structuration Theory and the Users of Technology," Technology and       
            Culture 40 (1999), 797-832.

Week 4 — February 5
            The Rise of General Motors and Sloanism     
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
            Film: “Roger and Me;” "Master Hands."
Article report(s): Blaine Brownell, " A Symbol of Modernity: Attitudes Toward the Automobile in Southern Cities in the 1920s," American Quarterly, 24 (March, 1972), 20-44.
Week  5 — February 12
            America on the Road: The Highway and the City;
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4
            Film: "Route 66;" “Taken for a Ride”
Review of Warren James Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 (Johns Hopkins, 1997) is due.

Week 6  -- February 19
             Women Behind the Wheel; Religion, Sex, and the Automobile
            Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 5
Article reports: Virginia Scharf, "The Lady Takes the Wheel," The Journal of Arizona History, 34 (1993), 419-32.
            Films: “Thelma and Louise;”

Week 7 — February 26
            Library and Consultation Day

Week 8 -- March 12
            The Interwar Years; The Great Depression
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
            Music:  Virginia Liston, Bertha Chippie Hill, Robert Johnson
            Article report: Peter Norton, "Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street, Technology and Culture, 2007, 331-359.
Films: “The Crowd Roars” (1932); “Burn ‘Em Up Barnes"(1934)
            Term Paper Proposal Due; The Completion of a Working Bibliography of no less than 15 Sources, 5 of which are articles.

Week 9 — March 19
             WWII and the Reconversion Economy
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 7.
Article report(s): Cotton Seiler, "Statist means to Individualist Ends: Subjectivity, Automobility, and the Cold War State," American Studies, 44 (Fall, 2003), 5-36.
            Film: “Tucker”
Review of Jack Keroauc's On the Road is Due

Week 10 — March 26
             Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 8
Article report: Karal Ann Marling, "America's Love Affair with the Automobile in the Television Age," Design Quarterly, 46 (1989), 5-20.
            Film:   “Rebel Without a Cause;” “Thunder Road.”
            Music:  Jackie Berenson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Chuck Berry.

Week 11 — April 2
Muscle Cars of the 1960s; Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys
            Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 9
Music: Dead Man’s Curve — Jan and Dean; Little Duce Coupe — The Beach Boys; GTO – Ronny and the Daytonas;
            Article report:  John Heitmann and Todd Uhlman, " Stealing Freedom:  Auto-Theft    and the Rebellious Revitalization of the Masculine American Self in Visual Culture"
 Journal of Popular Culture, forthcoming.
            Film: “Bullitt;” “American Graffiti”
 Review of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America is due

Week 12 —  April 9 --  No Class -- work on term papers!
Week 13 -- April 16
            Foreign Competition: VW, Nissan and Toyota
            Japan Inc. in the USA
            Germans in the New South
Article report: Rudi Volti, "A Century of Automobility," Technology & Culture, 37 (October, 1996), 663-685.
             Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 10.
            Film: “The Fast and Furious;” “Gone in Sixty Seconds”
            Music:  Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Six Mix-a-Lot, David Banner

Week 14 —April  23 -- Term -Papers Due

            Research Paper Discussion and Closing Statements

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