American Culture in the 1960s

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A survey of the culture of one of the most turbulent eras of American history. Beginning with an examination of the Cold War culture of the 1950’s, and the various responses to it (the Beat Movement, Elvis Presley), we’ll go on to consider some of the major political and cultural movements of the time. We’ll study political speeches and manifestoes from John F. Kennedy, George Wallace, Martin Luther King, Students for a Democratic Society, Malcolm X, the Yippies, and the Weatherman Underground. We’ll examine such flashpoints of the decade as the civil rights movement, the New Left, the Vietnam War, and the rise of “Second Wave” feminism. We’ll view the films Rebel Without a Cause, Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, analyze the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and James Brown, and read literary work by figures such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion. Our emphasis falls not only on what the 1960's were, but how their meaning and significance remain a site of contemporary struggle.


Unit Essential Questions Content Skills and Processes Assessment Resources Multicultural Dimension
Spring Semester

*How do the cultural artifacts of the 1960's afford us insight into the social and political conflicts of that period?
*What sorts of thematic or stylistic innovations were pioneered by artists and writers of this era?
*What relation do the dilemmas and conflicts of the 1960's bear to those of our own era?

*Historical context of the period
*Examination of variety of literary works, political statements, and journalism, as well as a sampling of music and film of the era
*Contemporary analyses of political and cultural significance of the 1960's

*Plan and lead two classes per term
*Peer review
*Metacritical essay required for every writing assignment

*Class presentations debriefed in conference with instructor
*All writing assignments reviewed in conference with instructor

*Todd Gitlin's The 'Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
*Poems by Allen Ginsberg
*Jack Kerouac's On the Road
*Burrough's Naked Lunch
*Mailer's The White Negro
*King's Letter From Birmingham Jail
*John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address
*The Port Huron Statement
*Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49
*Time O'Brien's Going After Cacciato
*Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
*Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays and Slouching Toward Bethlehem
*Various documents on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, feminism and the arts
*Music by Wynonie Harris, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, James Brown, and the Rolling Stones
* Films Rebel Without a Cause, Dr. Strangelove, and Berkeley in the 'Sixties.

*Questions of race, gender, and class foregrounded in course reading, discussion, and analysis