On Location 2016: "We'll Have Manhattan": New York City and the Geographies of Popular Culture

Dates: May 23 - June 7, 2016

Manhattan has been at the center of American popular culture for more than a century. At the center of Manhattan sits Times Square, an entertainment district located at the primary intersection of New York City's subway system and centered on a cluster of theatres, virtually all built before the stock market crash of 1929. This group of buildings - known together as Broadway theatres - make up a singularly enduring element of the architectural fabric of American popular culture. This course delves into the history of Times Square and the Broadway theatres, considering the changing nature of both street and stage across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Creative interchange with other Manhattan neighborhoods proves essential to the story, and so the course embraces neighborhoods such as Harlem, the African American district uptown, and downtown areas, such as Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, which fostered upstart and ethnic music and theatre. We'll also consider how adjacent performance spaces connected to elite performing arts and the movies, such as Lincoln Center and Radio City Music Hall, play into the larger midtown scene.

This sixteen-day On Location travel course spends two weeks in Manhattan.

We will go on guided walking tours, visit theaters, museums, and archives, pursue independent archival research, and go to at least two Broadway musicals.

The larger issues at the center of the course include considering how the national popular culture of the United States has been shaped by the specifics of its enduring physical location in midtown Manhattan. We will turn our attention in particular towards how racial segregation and limited racially-shared public spaces - such as the actual stages of Broadway theatres - have shaped this process historically and continue to do so into the present. Along the way, we will also explore the methodological question of how a medium predicated on liveness can be recovered by the historian and scholar. The rich archival sources located in the libraries, museums, and archives of Manhattan will be utilized as a means to access the history of past live performance in the city. We will also consider how research in popular culture is turned into published scholarship, including a visit to a major academic press.

While the focus of the course is Times Square and the Broadway theatre (both plays and musicals), any form of live performance in the city - including, for example, television and radio - can be investigated during the individual archival component (sources permitting). This is a chance to get into New York City's archives and explore, including unique collections such as the New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape collection and the Paley Center for Media.

This course will be of particular interest to students in Performing Arts, Music, Urban Studies, History, African and African American Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies - all of which fall under the broad umbrella of American Culture Studies.

This course offers a unique and immersive form of location-based cultural study that draws upon multiple disciplinary models and methods, and includes many sites in New York City. It runs May 23 to June 7, 2016. We will be in NYC beginning May 25 through the end of the course. Attendance is mandatory during the course of the trip and each day's activities. The course carries a $850 travel fee which covers all site visits (including Broadway tickets), one-way airfare to NYC, lodging in NYC, ground transportation, and most meals.

key contacts

Todd Decker

Associate Professor, Musicology
Film and Media Studies, Affiliated Faculty
American Culture Studies, Joint Appointment
Performing Arts Department, Faculty Affiliate


Jennifer Gallinat

Administrative Coordinator


keyword links