Metropolitan America:
Cultures And Landscapes Of The Twentieth-Century City

(History: L22 HIST 4961
and American Culture Series: L98 AMCS 4961)

Joseph Heathcott
Washington University
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Fall 2000
Professor Heathcott comments:
In the Fall of 2000, I taught this upper-division undergraduate course as an advanced seminar in urban history that turned out to be very successful in terms of student satisfaction, accomplishments, and outcomes.



What is the purpose of this course?

This course will orient students to issues and themes in the study of American urban and suburban history through a focus on landscapes. We will immerse ourselves in the examination of American cities, their cultures, and their built environments. We will approach the American city as a landscape of socially and historically produced urban spaces, whose forms and contours are the result of multiple negotiations at many levels. We will study cities as "texts," as legible palimpsests upon which various groups attempt to inscribe power and resistance. At the same time, we will place the "textual" city within the broader context of political, material, and cultural forces that shape it over time.

What are the course objectives?

Students will become familiar with the literature on American urbanism as it emerges from disciplines such as history, geography, architecture, literature, and anthropology. The concept of "culture," as a system of meaning and shared experience, will provide the rubric for organizing these diverse disciplinary perspectives into a common analytical framework. We will examine the ways in which culture shapes both the urban built environment and the perceptions of that environment across space and time. Students will also develop a visual literacy for "reading" urban spaces, and for understanding the ways in which landscapes organize, reflect, and engender meaning. Finally, the course will challenge students to construct analytic and interpretive frameworks for future research and writing.

What will students do in this course?

H4961 is designed as a colloquium--that is, around a common roster of readings and assignments designed to forward knowledge on a collaborative basis. The course is neither a survey (it is, in fact, selective), nor is it strictly a research seminar (students will not write primary research papers). Rather, it will introduce students to issues, theories, and sources in urban research.

The success of the course depends on active engagement on the part of every student. Students will be responsible, on a rotating basis, for facilitating class meetings and for providing a general framework for discussion. Each class meeting will feature two or three facilitators, along with two primary source reports--so each student will facilitate and report twice. Students will also submit short literature reviews (2-3 pages), assemble bibliographies, and write a final paper.

How will students be evaluated in this course?


I take your participation in the life of the classroom very seriously. This means coming to class having read the material, and sharing insights and observations. It also means engaging your fellow students on a civil basis, in the spirit of collaboration and mutual respect. (10% of the final grade).


Each student will be responsible for facilitating two class sessions, usually in groups of 2-3. Facilitators will introduce the material, summarize the main arguments, and provide a framework for discussion. The best facilitating, of course, takes place when students coordinate their efforts in advance. Each group will submit a document with a list of five summary points, five discussion questions, and a bibliography of further readings. The group will provide a hard copy of this document for everyone. (10% x 2 = 20% of final grade).

Critical Reviews

When your turn to facilitate arrives, you will also individually submit a short critique of the material under consideration. We will discuss in class the mechanics and strategy behind a good critical essay. Each critical review should be three double-spaced pages in 12-point Times font, with 1.25" side margins. (10% x 2 = 20% of final grade).

Primary Source Review

Every student will give two short presentations on a primary source. These presenters will NOT be the same ones that facilitate that week's meeting. The presentation should: describe the source; analyze its components; discuss the nature, contexts, and time period of its production; and assess its significance for research into urban cultures and landscapes. The review should discuss the usefulness of the source as well as its limitations. Each reviewer will write a short summary (one double-spaced page), attach a photocopied sample, and make a copy for every student. (10% x 2 = 20% of final grade).

Final Paper

Every student will write a term paper that examines an aspect of the urban landscape and built environment from a cultural perspective. This could be a building, a neighborhood, an architectural typology, an industrial location, a transport corridor, a set of documents or plans, an event (parade, fair, celebration), or a process. The assignment is open, as long as it employs a cultural lens to the interpretation of urban landscape. (30% of final grade).

Required Texts

    Frederic Miller, Morris J. Vogel, Allen Freeman Davis.
      Philadelphia Stories: A Photographic History, 1920-1960. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
    Paul Groth and Todd Bressi, eds.
      Understanding Ordinary Landscapes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
    Roy Rosenzweig.
      Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
    Lizabeth Cohen.
      Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939. Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
    Donald Albrecht and Margaret Crawford, eds.
      World War II and the American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation. Washington, D.C.: National Building Museum; London: M.I.T., 1995.
    Thomas Sugrue.
      The Origins Of The Urban Crisis: Race And Inequality In Postwar Detroit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
    Kenneth Jackson.
      Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York, Oxford University Press, 1985.
    Mike Davis, and Robert Morrow.
      City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. New York: Verso, 1990.
    Sharon Zukin.
      Landscapes of Power from Detroit to Disney World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.


    Week One, 8.30.   Patterns in American Urban Development
      Arthur Schlesinger, "The City in American History";
      Alfred Kazin, "Fear of the City, 1783-1983";
      Joel Tarr, "Patterns in the Development of the Urban Infrastructure";
      Louis Wirth, "The Chicago Ghetto";
      James Borchert, "The Rise and Fall of Washington's Inhabited Alleys" (All on reserve).
    Week Two, 9.6.   Errand Out of the Wilderness: Making Landscapes Urban
      Paul Groth and Todd Bressi, eds., Understanding Ordinary Landscapes, chs. 1, 3, 6-7, 10-14, 17;
      William Cronon, "Lumber" (resrv).
    Week Three, 9.13.   The Industrial City
      Roy Rosenzweig, Pts. I-III, Eight Hours for What We Will;
      Kathy Peiss, "Dance Madness" (resrv);
      David Scobey, "Anatomy of the Promenade" (resrv).
    Week Four, 9.20.   The Emergence of Metropolitan America
      Roy Rosenzweig, Pt. IV, Eight Hours for What We Will;
      Eric Sandweiss, "The Logic of Civic Improvement in Early 20th century St. Louis" (resrv);
      Clifford Clark, Jr., "The Bungalow Craze" (resrv);
      Miller et al, Philadelphia Stories, pp. 3-41.
    Due in class: Final paper topic proposal and preliminary bibliography
    Week Five, 9.27.   Race, Class, and Urban Struggles Between the Wars
      Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal;
      Miller et al, Philadelphia Stories, pp. 42-111;
      Elliott Rudwick, chs. 4-5 in Race Riot in East St. Louis (resrv);
      Alan Spear, "The Impact of Migration: Negro Community Life" (resrv).
    Week Six, 10.4.   World War II and the American Built Environment
      Donald Albrecht and Margaret Crawford, eds., World War II and the American Dream;
      Miller et al, Philadelphia Stories, pp. 152-157.
    Week Seven, 10.11.   Race, Class, and the City in Mid-Century America
      Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis pts. I-II;
      Miller et al, Philadelphia Stories, 159-227.
    Week Eight, 10.18.   Urban Renewal and the New Metropolis
      Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis pt. III;
      "Progress or Decay: St. Louis Must Choose" Post-Dispatch (resrv);
      "Slum Surgery in St. Louis" Architectural Record (resrv).
    Week Nine, 10.25.   Constructing a Postwar Suburban Landscape
      Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontiers: The Suburbanization of America;
      Miller et al, Philadelphia Stories, pp. 228-277;
      Clifford Clark, Jr., "Ranch House Moderne" (resrv).
    Due in class: Progress report, including draft outline and updated bibliography
    Week Ten, 11.1.   Sunbelt Places, Exo-politan Spaces
      Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles;
      William Sharpe and Leonard Wallcock, "Bold New City or Built Up Burb?" (resrv).
    Week Eleven, 11.8.   Theme I: Landscape and Motion
      James Borchert, "Visual Landscapes of a Streetcar Suburb" in Groth;
      Clay McShane, "Urban Pathways: The Street and Highway, 1900-1940" (resrv);
      Raymond Mohl, "Interstate-95 and the Black Community in Miami " (resrv);
      Larry Ford, "Drive-in Dreams: Decades of Design on the American Commercial Strip" (resrv).
    Week Twelve, 11.15.   Theme II: Landscape and Power
      Sharon Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World;
      Margaret Crawford, "All the World in a Shopping Mall" (resrv).
    Week Thirteen, 11.22.   Thanksgiving Break
    No class meeting. Students should work on final papers.
    Week Fourteen, 11.29.   Theme III: Landscape and Memory
      Dolores Hayden, "Urban Landscape History: A Sense of Place and the Politics of Space" and Robert Riley, "The Visible, the Visual, and the Vicarious" in Groth;
      Daniel Bluestone, "Preservation and Renewal in Post-World War II Chicago";
      Earl Lewis, "Connecting Memory, Self, and the Power of Place in African-American Urban History" (resrv).
    Week Fifteen, 12.6.   Presentations Week
    Final Paper Presentations in class.
    Week Sixteen, 12.7.   Reading Week
    Final Papers Due on Friday, December 9th
    Week Seventeen.   Finals Week

This syllabus prepared for H-URBAN Syllabus Archive 12 Feb 2001.