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American City, American Culture

Most Americans live in cities. Yet, Americans have long been ambivalent about the “American-ness” of urban life. This seminar will explore this paradox by investigating how Americans, past and present, have imagined and debated the place and possibilities of city living. We will study depictions of American metropolises in fiction, film, and art as well as significant debates about how to realize the ideal city—and the lived consequences of those efforts in our daily lives.   

This seminar places the city--a social, political, and cultural form central to modern life around the globe—at the center of our analysis and discussion.  Students will be asked to examine:

  • How ideas, designs, and policies about cities define the world in which we live;
  • How American culture has represented urban life--particularly iconic American metropolises such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles;
  • How our experiences and mental categories (inner city, suburb, rural, wilderness) shape the ways in which they see city life

Outside of the classroom, students will:

Course Fast Facts

Nicole Sackley, Ph.D.

Fall Course:
FYS 100: American Cities, American Culture
Tuesday/Thursday, 12–1:15 p.m.

Number of Students: 16

Residence Hall:
Wood Hall (co-ed community)

Sample Course Readings

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784)

Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (1890)

Robert Park, The City (1915)

Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems (1916)

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

Chinatown (1974)

Blade runner (1982)

Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990)

Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, San Juan: A Memoir (2007)

Paintings by John Sloan, Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Richard Estes

Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming our Lives through Urban Design (2013)

Redlining maps, created by UR Digital Scholarship Lab