Among the most persistent and popular themes within American exceptionalism's extensive and luring reservoir of symbols and narratives the vaguely-defined notion of the "American Dream" figures ... read more
Among the most persistent and popular themes within American exceptionalism's extensive and luring reservoir of symbols and narratives the vaguely-defined notion of the "American Dream" figures prominently, intersecting notions of democracy, individualism, a Protestant work ethic, and upward social mobility. The resulting notion of a permeable, if not to say "classless," social system based on the concept of meritocracy is seen as central to hegemonic constructions of US identities. By promising unlimited prosperity through self-management and hard work, narratives of upward social mobility have allegedly stressed the significance of individual accomplishment in a performance-oriented competitive society. In this seminar, focusing on the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the late 1930s, we will revisit canonical literary and (audio-)visual texts of both upward and downward social mobility - such as Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick series, Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives, or the Screwball comedy film - to raise and discuss questions about the function(s) of aesthetic objects in the reflection, construction, and negotiation of questions pertaining to class and social mobility in pivotal sociocultural, economic, and political periods of the US nation-state.
Course requirements: thorough preparation of all reading assignments, active participation in class discussions, regular attendance, a one-page response paper, an oral presentation, an annotated bibliography on your research topic, and a term paper. The course will be held in English.