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The City in American Political Life 1776 – Present (NCHHI674)

30 Credits

This third-year special subject analyses the role played by cities in American political and social life from the Revolutionary era to the present.

The central goal is to examine and understand how urban areas, as physical and imagined spaces, have been part of the processes that have defined the US historical experience. Consequently, central themes include debates about republicanism and democracy; mass immigration, industrialization and mass production; notions of race, ethnicity and gender; social movements and political change; the relationship between city, state and federal branches of government; national anxieties during globalization and de-industrialization.

The course explores the role played by cities in the Early Republic – where they were variously seen as a destabilizing ‘mobbish’ threat to republican virtue and as bastions of a burgeoning participatory public democracy – before examining the role of the industrializing north in exacerbating sectional tensions. Focusing on cities in the first half of the twentieth century will illuminate how transformative processes of mass production, migration and consumer culture fed into the emergence of the ‘New Deal order’. In the post-war period, we assess how social conditions in cities shaped, and were in turn transformed by, the emergence of civil rights militancy and Black Power politics.

Finally, the course examines how processes of sub-urbanization, de-industrialization and the growth of an urban ‘Sunbelt’ set the stage for the rise of the New Right, before interrogating how polarized understandings of declining postindustrial cities are connected to the fault-lines within modern American politics and society.