Princeton University | Department of History
389 | 4 Units | Spring 2020 |

Professor Rhae Lynn Barnes ( | Office Hours in G20 Dickinson

Precept Dr. Sarah Matherly (| Office Hours in 302 Dickinson


“How much thought…can be hidden in a few short lines of poetry?” Music writer Robert Palmer asked, “How much history can be transmitted by pressure on a guitar string?” The battle over who and what was “American” during both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often manifested through a politicization of culture and the culturalization of politics. This course will serve as an intensive historical survey on the rise of mass popular culture from 1800 to 1970 and will investigate the ways popular culture was influenced by and affected American race relations, labor, gender, sexuality, technology, and urbanization. Popular culture filters, reflects, and refracts many central prejudices and preoccupations of a given society while shaping central historical events. Culture documents consciousness; it can convey the deepest struggles of a nation, while also serving as the historical memory of these struggles and victories. Various forms of expressive culture ranging from theater, amusement parks, World’s fairs, sporting events, song, dance, print, photography, film, radio, and television became mediators between power, people, and their public representations, while acting as an illuminating worldview into the lived experiences of everyday people, documenting how various Americans (and groups who fought to remain autonomous from America) imagined and understood their worlds.

This course will chart patterns of continuity and change in cultural politics, representations of race and gender, the role of labor in cultural production, urbanization, and technological innovation with an emphasis on the complexity of American popular culture(s).

Learning Outcomes

  • Critically engage with a variety of sources from American popular culture including memoir, fiction, poetry, music, cinema, dance, theater, sports, radio, and photography to develop your historical imagination and master landmarks of the broader cultural landscape
  • Identify and explore the defining material, spatial, political, racial, social, and cultural features of what constituted “American popular culture” through time
  • Learn hands-on digital humanities research methodologies and work with technologically innovative tools to expand archival research and argument-driven storytelling
  • Acquire and be able to write about American race relations, gender, sexuality, place, and cultural history in a dynamic and global perspective
  • Develop close reading and analysis skills that can be applied to texts, objects, the digital world, and physical spaces

Course Requirements

  1. Class Meetings.
    This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30PM to 2:20PM and for a weekly precept. Lectures will introduce material not replicated in course readings and precepts will introduce you to skills that are important for completing course assignments. Attendance is mandatory. If you need to be absent from lecture, you must contact Professor Barnes and provide proper medical documentation. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of every class session. Students are expected to be on time and come prepared to participate in class discussions. Class will begin promptly. Students arriving more than 15 minutes late will be counted as absent for that class. More than TWO absences will result in the drop of a full letter grade on your final grade.
  2. Participation & Weekly Assignments. 30% of your grade.
    Each week you will have a short assignment that is due by 8 P.M. the night before your precept. These assignments are a part of your participation and will range from brief primary source analyses, music listening exercises, preparing for debates, digital mapping exercises, free writes, submitting reading questions, responding to prompts, and so forth. On average, your weekly assignments will be approximately 50-300 words in length (never more than two paragraphs). You must critically engage with the assigned source material and cite your evidence using the Chicago Manual of Style. The success of this class hinges on active engagement by all students. Participation involves preparation, thoughtful contribution, asking questions, talking in class, and engaging with your peers. Students will participate in both small group work and large class discussions. Growth over time is expected.
  3. Film Review due on Dean’s Date: May 12, 2020. 10% of your grade. Submit a polished thousand-word film analysis focused on the tension between western mythology, cultural representation, and the lived reality in the U.S. West. Here is the detailed assignment. A list of pre-selected films for you to consider along with their movie trailers can be found here.
  4. Found Object Digitization Project and Presentation due on your signup day. 30% of your grade. During each precept, a student will give a tight three-minute presentation on a “found object” in the Princeton archives, analyzing how it relates to the week’s course themes and readings. Here you will find the full assignment and directions. And here you will find the sign-up sheet for which precept or class meeting date you want to present on. You will be timed as our sessions together are limited. You will “bring this object to class” through either a short three-minute film you make or an in-class presentation (you can use StoryMap, TimelineJS, SlideShare, Prezie, Zeega, a short film, etc.). Throughout the course, we will encounter readings that use material culture, especially by minority groups like Native American tribes who left more objects than written sources. Consider what everyday objects can tell us about the past. Consider the object’s design, creation, distribution, provenance, and lineage. What can objects reveal about kinship networks, migration, labor, leisure, environmental change, or the history of capitalism? How do race, gender, and sexuality come into play? For an example, see: Yolonda Youngs, “On Grand Canyon Postcards,” Environmental History, 16 (2011), 138-47. For further instructions, see our course website.
  5. Take-Home Final Exam or Creative Project Due: May 18, 2020. 30% of your grade.
    You can decide between taking a comprehensive final exam or curating a small digital exhibit/ creating a multimedia project based on your original research and class key terms. While I highly encourage you to pursue the digital/ multimedia research project and create something related to your intellectual and professional interests for your job portfolio, the exam option is available for those who want it. Exams might consist of key terms, a short song or film question, and a longer essay question that will ask you to draw on both lecture material and assigned readings from throughout the entire course. Terms should be fully explained in terms of who, what, when, where, and why the term is significant and how it relates to major course themes and readings. Long essays will usually have multiple parts and must integrate course readings, films, and audio selections into your answer. I will provide further information on curating a digital exhibit and the multimedia option in class. Here is an example of a recent creative final project created for this class.
  6. Office Hours
    After registration, I will circulate a signup sheet for one-on-one meetings so I can learn more about you, your intellectual goals, and interests in American popular culture. There will also be a mandatory mid-semester check-in meeting with your precept.
  7. Late Work and Religious Holidays.
    If you need arrangements for special holy day or religious holiday exemptions, please notify me by February 10, 2020, via e-mail. I do not accept late work without proper documentation from your Dean or healthcare provider confirming there was a serious medical issue, family emergency, etc.  No exceptions.
  8. Technology in the classroom. Please respect our classroom environment. Turn off cell phones while in class. You must take notes with paper and pen during lectures. You may only use your laptop during precept when you are required to read digital primary source or multimedia material. Recording, filming, photography, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and e-mail are not allowed during class sessions.
  1. Grading Rubric.
    94-100 = A | 90-93 = A- | 87-89 = B+ | 84-86 = B | 80-83 = B- | 77-79 = C+ | 74-76 = C | 70-73 = C- | 67-69 = D+ | 64-66 = D | 60-63 = D | > 59 = F  Please be advised that I do not entertain grade changes.

Required Texts, Films, and Audio

This class includes required films. We will also use short video clips, analyze images, and listen to music. You will be responsible for all material presented, just as you are responsible for the assigned readings and will be tested on them. In other words, take notes on the movies and watch them critically. Most of our readings are available online and are identified as such with an asterisk in the class schedule.

Warning of Graphic Material

America has both an uplifting and hopeful and a dark and harrowing past. The subject matter of this course—both in imagery and description—can and will at times be graphic and upsetting. Understanding that each individual’s level of sensitivity can be different, if some part of the course becomes overly distressing or disturbing, please feel free to discuss such problems with the instructor. There will be times historical language will be quoted from historical documents in lecture or images will be projected that are contemporarily offensive. These images and excerpts are not a reflection of the instructor’s personal beliefs or opinions; they are representative of American pasts and viewpoints we are grappling to understand.

Academic Honesty and Classroom Conduct

You are encouraged to discuss the readings and ideas in the course with your fellow classmates and others. However, your written work should be planned, developed, and written by you alone. Plagiarism—the representation of ideas or words by another source as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words—is cause for an automatic failing of this course. Words taken directly from another source (whether the item was found in published or unpublished print material, manuscript source, or the internet) should be presented in quotation marks, with the source clearly indicated in footnotes. Ideas paraphrased from another source should also be footnoted to indicate and credit the source. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism and academic integrity in the University-Wide Regulations.

Conduct: Discrimination, sexual assault, threats, and harassment are not tolerated by the university. You are encouraged to report any incidents that occur in person or online. This is important for the safety of the whole Princeton community. Another member of the university community – such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member – can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person. The Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity serves as the Title IX Coordinator at Princeton University. The University Title IX Coordinator’s contact information is as follows:

Michele Minter
Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity
205 Nassau Hall
Princeton, New Jersey 08544

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Students needing academic adjustments or accommodations because of a documented disability must present their Faculty Letter from The Office of Disability Services (  and speak with Professor Barnes by the end of the second week of the term. Failure to do so may inhibit our ability to respond in a timely manner. All discussions will remain confidential, although Faculty are invited to contact the ODS to discuss the appropriate implementation of accommodations.



During this course, we will screen films. In most cases, we will only be viewing an excerpt of the film. Film titles listed below are to assist you in locating copies for weekly assignments and exams.

  • Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth (1954)
  • Walter Lang, The King and I (1956)
  • Joshua Logan, South Pacific (1958)
  • Morgan Neville, Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)

Course Schedule

Readings are to be completed before our Tuesday lecture session and will be discussed that day in class and in the precept. Be aware that some of the “reading” material may be an audio, video, or film clip. This schedule may be amended during the course at the instructor’s discretion. If you do not know the difference between primary sources and secondary sources, here is a guide for you. 

Required Texts

  1. Bean, Annemarie, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara, ed. Inside the Minstrel Mask, Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1996). Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0819563002, 324 pp.
  2. T. [Phineas Taylor] Barnum and James W. Cook, The Colossal P.T. Barnum Reader: Nothing Else Like It in the Universe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005). Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0252072956, 272 pp.
  3. Blumnin, Stuart M., New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  4. Goldstein, Warren. Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. 1989; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. Paperback ISBN-13:  978-0801475085, 182 pp.
  5. Matthew Algeo, Pedestrianism. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014), Paperback ISBN-13:978-1613738825, 272 pp.
  6. Phil J. Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places, (University of Kansas, 2004), 312 p. ISBN-13: 978-0700614592
  7. Nancy Yunhwa Rao, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America, (University of Illinois Press, 2017), Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0252082030, 415 pp.
  8. John Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Hill & Wang, 1978). Paperback ISBN-13: 978- 0809001330, 128 pp.
  9. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  10. Jack Hamilton, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2016).
  11. Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road (New York: Random House, 2016).

Your Instructor 


My name is Professor Rhae Lynn Barnes. I am a cultural historian at Princeton University specializing in the globalization of American popular culture, racial representation, and book history. If you ever have questions about this class, readings, or research don’t hesitate to reach out at and we can set up a zoom meeting. I encourage students to attend virtual office hours towards the beginning of the semester so I can learn more about their own academic interests, goals, and cultural curiosities. If I know you love surf culture, disco, soccer, I can do my best to integrate and contextualize those interests in our course material and conversations.


Schedule of Classes

Week 1. Feb 4. Teaching American Culture to Extraterrestrials

Week 1. Feb 6. Slave Market Tourism: People as Entertainment Commodities in the Antebellum Culture Industries

  • *Levine, Lawrence W., “The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and its Audiences,” in AHR Forum on “Popular Culture and its Audience,” The American Historical Review, 97.5 (December 1992), p. 1359-1408 and 1417-1430 with responses Robin D.G. Kelley, Natalie Zemon Davis, T.J. Jackson Lears.
  • *Shane White and Graham White, Stylin’, 3 and 4.
  • *Excerpt, Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave
  • Samuel Jennings, “Liberty Displaying the Arts & Sciences (Or the Genius of America),” 1792. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Week 2. Feb 11. Slave Tales, Spirituals, and the Dark Side of Enlightenment

Week 2. Feb 13. P.T. Barnum’s America 

  • Phineas Taylor Barnum and James W. Cook, The Colossal P.T. Barnum Reader: Nothing Else Like It in the Universe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005).
  • * Explore the Lost museum website
  • Laura F Edwards, “James and His Striped Velvet Pantaloons: Textiles, Commerce, and the Law in the New Republic,” Journal of American History, Volume 107, Issue 2, 1 September 2020, Pages 336–361,

Week 3. Feb 18. City Reading: Antebellum Text, Newspapers, and the Origins of Mass Media

Week 3. Feb 20. Drinking, Vice Districts, & Gambling 

  • Blumnin, Stuart M., New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  • Seneca Village primary sources packet

Week 4. Feb 25. Jumpin’ Jim Crow & Zip Coon in Blackface America 

Week 4. Feb 27. Playing Indian: American Culture(s) in the Emerging Age of Jackson

Week 5. Mar 3. Photographic & Lithographic Generations: Gold Rush Through Civil War

Week 5. March 5. Days of Rest: Holidays, Nature, & Leisure

Week 6. Mar. 10 Material Culture & Mass Media of Abolition & The Road to Civil War

  • Lydia Maria Child “Crib-quilt” analysis exercise
  • Ashley’s Cotton Sack (NMAACH)
  • Queen Lili’Uokalani’s “Imprisonment Quilt” analysis exercise
  • Matthew Algeo, Pedestrianism. (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014).

Week 6. Mar. 12 No Class – Digital Transition As You Move Off-Campus




Week 8. Mar. 24 American Culture in Times of Crisis : ZOOM LECTURE LAB 3/24 1:30 PM

  • Phil J. Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places, (University of Kansas, 2004). ISBN-13: 978-0700614592
  • Jourdan Anderson, “A Former Tennessee Slave Declines His Master’s Invitation to Return to His
    Plantation,” 1865 [In class analysis]

Week 9. Mar. 31 “The Problem of the Twentieth Century is the Problem of the Color Line”: Segregated Entertainment, Amusement Parks, and Worlds Fairs 

  • John Kasson, Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Hill & Wang, 1978).
  • Nancy Yunhwa Rao, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America

Week 10. Apr. 7 “Writing History with Lightning”: Birth of a Nation and War of the Worlds: ZOOM LECTURE LAB 4/9 at 1:30 PM with guest A. Brad Schwartz 

  • *Ross, Steven J., “Struggles for the Screen: Workers, Radicals, and the Political Uses of Silent Film,” American Historical Review 2 (1991): 333-367.
  • *Radio Drama: Welles, Orson, War of the Worlds (1938)

Week 11. Or Does it Explode?”: A Jazz Renaissance in Harlem and Paris

“Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” and the Great Depression

  • Class Playlist
  • Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth (1954)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Week 12. Apr. 21 Fear and Conformity in the Atomic Cold War

Week 12. Apr. 23 Great Balls of Fire: American Westerns & Rock ‘n’ Roll

  • Jack Hamilton, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2016).
  • *Bruce, Lenny, Blah Blah Blah and obscenity conviction clips (1961)
  • John Ford, The Searchers (1956)
  • *TV Episode: Dick Van Dyke Show, Season 3, Episode 1 “That’s My Boy” Original Airdate September 25, 1963. [Streams on Netflix]


Week 13. Apr. 28 “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom”: Protest Culture of the 60s

Week 13. Apr. 30 “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”: Movement Women


  • “Tapestry” by Carole King (1971) and class Spotify playlist
  • Steinem, Gloria, My Life on the Road (2016)
  • Watch Anthony Harvey’s adaptation of Dutchman (1967)


  • Extra Credit: Watch 20 Feet from Stardom (Netflix) and write a one-page response
  • *Ann Margaret, “How Lovely to be a Woman” from Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
  • *Hayden, Casey and King, Mary, “Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo” (1965) 


Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).

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