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The American Counterculture: From Oz to Occupy Wall Street

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

This course will focus upon the American Counterculture from its emergence in the 1950s to its legacies in contemporary politics and society. We will analyze the historical, philosophical, and sociological foundations of the American counterculture in music, literature, style, and politics from the 1950s to the contemporary moment. This material, of which many pre-college students may already be aware, has recently returned to the public spotlight. The course provides a helpful introduction into university-level analysis, discussion, and writing.

The focus on the course is the emergence of the American counterculture beginning with the "beats" in the 1950's, to the "hippies" of the 1960s, and continuing through the non-governmental political activist fringe, culminating in the "occupy" movement of the current decade. Each thematic section will pair literary and musical examples, along with the changing political context and a philosophical foundation. Specific themes will include race relations, civil rights, women's emancipation, gay rights, and alternative lifestyle and religious practices. The following questions will be considered: What is the American counterculture and when did it begin? How did the expansion of the counterculture in the sixties impact some of its original impulses? What was the effect of its expansion upon American society? Can the particular “revolutions” of the counterculture be judged to have achieved certain concrete aims? How has the counterculture changed since the sixties? In answering these questions, our goal will be to solidify fundamental tools of historical investigation and analysis, and explore a contested history through critical, close reading and writing practices.

The interdisciplinary nature of such course material allows for the introduction and application of methods from sociology, history, and political science, as well as literary and musical analysis.

By the end of the course, students will:

  • Have a grasp of basic research methods and concepts from a variety of key fields within the humanities
  • Have an acquaintance with some of the key philosophical, musical, and literary texts of American culture from the second half of the twentieth century
  • Be able to critical formulate their ideas through oral and written forms
  • Be able to refine their skill in the formulation of analytic questions

The most crucial prerequisite is a high level of interest in the material and motivation to improve critical reading and writing skills. While there are no specific expectations of previous training, students oriented towards the humanities would be best served by this course.