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American Culture Studies

"Reading" Culture: Visualizing the American City

American Culture Studies 206 - Spring 2020

Mound City. Gateway to the West. A "city of neighborhoods." One of the most segregated places in America. A sports town "with the best fans in the world." The heart of the Silicon Prairie. Flyover country. St. Louis has been called all of these things, and many more, over the past two hundred years. Like all cities, its evolving identity has been shaped by stories, ideas, place memories, and local branding efforts that are deeply rooted in the visual imagination--those "pictures of the mind" that define a distinct sense of place. Such pictures are at once personal and shared. And some--like aerial photos of the Arch--become definitive elements of the visual imaginary, and are reproduced endlessly, from art galleries to tourist maps to baseball caps. This introductory course explores the visual culture of the American city, seeking to understand its powerful political and social significance at key moments in urban history. We will engage the rich archives of urban life, culture, and economic development associated with Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Detroit, and other cities, working with maps, engravings, photographs, travel guides, souvenirs, billboards, posters, and many other visual technologies, including digital representations and experimental formats. In so doing, we will attend to various historical phenomena, from world's fairs and urban renewal projects to catastrophic violence and slum clearance to gentrification and social reform--and their visual representations--that have shaped these cities' public life and identities, and contributed to broader urban imaginaries that are still powerfully present today. Students will develop their analysis and writing skills through short artifact readings.

Section 01

"Reading" Culture: How to Read Images: Visual Culture and Visual Literacy
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