Instructor: Robin Bernstein


American Studies S-429

Summer 2003

Yale University

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1-4:15 pm.


This course explores ways in which young people functioned as a force in twentieth-century American cultural history.  Topics of particular attention include:

·          the relationship between youth and mass culture (including attention to young

people as both consumers and producers of American culture) and

·          young people’s political activism in the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam

War protests, and other movements.


As we investigate these and other topics, we will

·          gather knowledge of the lives of diverse young people during the twentieth century.

·          enhance skills in the evaluation of primary documents.

·          develop the ability to analyze the terms “teenage” and “student” as social categories.  How did Americans come to believe that the teenage years hold special significance to individual development?  What is at stake in the belief that teenagers are crucially different from people of other ages?  Who benefits from this belief?  Why did Americans become obsessed with youth?  How does the category of “teenager” intersect with categories of race and gender?




Participation (25% of total grade)

Active and informed participation is mandatory.   You are expected to prepare your own thoughts, opinions, and questions before every class.  Your productive, informed participation constitutes 25% of your total grade for this course. That means that a student who receives an A on every assignment, but who never speaks in class, will receive a grade of C- for the course. You need not be equally vocal every week, but consistent silence will have an adverse effect on your grade. Similarly, practices that disrespect your colleagues (for example, interrupting, hogging the floor, or launching personal attacks) will result in a lowered grade. Lateness and absence will also lower your grade.

Presentation #1 (10% of total grade)

On July 10, 15, or 17 (you must sign up for the date in advance), you will bring to class a relevant and interesting primary document that originated between 1900 and 1950.   You will (1) show your document to the class (and distribute copies, if appropriate), (2) briefly explain why you find the document interesting and provocative, (3) suggest one connection between the document and the reading we have pursued together, and (4) raise one relevant question for the class to discuss.  Your entire presentation could take about five minutes (not including discussion).


Paper #1 (15% of total grade)

In a five-page paper, analyze the document you presented to the class.   In other words, you should explain what the document reveals about young people’s experiences and/or the historical construction of “teenagers.”  If you include an idea your classmate offered in discussion, you MUST cite that classmate.  This assignment is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, July 22.


Presentation #2 (15% of total grade)

On July 24, 29, or 31, you will bring to class a primary document that originated between 1950 and 2003.  In a presentation to last approximately ten minutes (not including discussion), you will formally analyze the document.


Prospectus, Bibliography, and Meeting (5% of total grade)

At the beginning of class on Tuesday, July 29, each student will submit a prospectus in which he or she will describe plans for a final paper.  A bibliography-in-progress will accompany the prospectus.  The instructor and student will meet to discuss the final paper.  You must complete this assignment before you may submit your final paper.


Paper #2 (30% of total grade)

At the beginning of class on Thursday, August 7, each student will submit a 15-20 page analytical paper in which he or she will place two primary documents of American youth culture into dialogue with each other.  “Placing into dialogue” can entail comparing and contrasting texts, arguing for the presence of a historical relationship between texts, or analyzing one text through the ideological lens of another.  


A student may use a document previously discussed in class.  However, a student may not merely fold Paper #1 into Paper #2. 




Boy Scouts of America: The Official Handbook for Boys (reprint of 1911 edition)

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

Grace Palladino, Teenagers: An American History

Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers





All books are available at Book Haven on York Street

The Coursepack is available at Tyco




July 8 (Tuesday):  Introduction to Youth Culture


When and why did Americans decide that the teenage years held special significance?    How did youth cultures emerge?  Why are youth cultures worth studying?


Excerpts handed out in class:

Booth Tarkington, Seventeen

J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Judy Blume, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Francesca Lia Block, Weetzie Bat


July 10 (Thursday): Boys’ Culture Emerges


Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, Chapter 3, “’Teaching Our Sons to Do What We Hve Been Teaching the Savages to Avoid’: G. Stanley Hall, Racial Recapitulation, and the Neurasthenic Paradox,” pp. 77-120. In coursepack.


Boy Scouts of America: The Official Handbook for Boys (reprint of 1911 edition).  Focus your reading on pages x-xii, 3-12, 219-233, 237-251, 353-356.  


Read the Boy Scout Handbook as a primary document.   How do the ideologies Gail Bederman describes manifest in the Handbook? 


July 15 (Tuesday): Girls’ Culture Emerges


Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working-Class Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York, “Introduction,” (p. 3-10); “Leisure and Labor” (p. 34-55) and “Dance Madness (p. 88-114). In coursepack.


As needed: Grace Palladino, Teenagers: An American History, Chapters 1, 2, and 3.


Please note: Palladino’s book offers you a general overview of the history of young people in the United States.  You should view this book as a resource and refer to it to the extent that you find it useful.  Please understand that this book is not merely “optional” or “recommended.”  You are expected to have a general familiarity with the history Palladino sketches.  If you already possess that knowledge, you may refer to Palladino less.  If you need to improve your knowledge of this general history, you will probably read Palladino more closely.


July 17 (Thursday): Resistance


Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, “Sex and the Single Teenager” and “Why the Shirelles Mattered” (p. 61-98).  In coursepack.


As needed: Palladino, Teenagers, Chapters 4, 5, 6, 10.


July 22  (Tuesday): Rebellion



Jack Kerouac, On the Road, p. 1-167.


July 23 (Wednesday):

Film: Blackboard Jungle


July 24 (Thursday): Rebellion, continued


Jack Kerouac, On the Road, p. 167-293


July 29 (Tuesday): Youth as Political Activists


Reading: Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi, “High School” and “College,” p.121-258


As needed: Palladino, Teenagers, Chapter 11.


July 30 (Wednesday):

Film: Berkeley in the Sixties


July 31 (Thursday):  Youth as Political Activists, continued


Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi, “The Movement,” p. 261-384.


Karla Jay, Tales of the Lavender Menace, “Redstockings,” “A/K/A Jay,” and “Stonewall Girl,” p. 33-86.  In coursepack.


August 5 (Tuesday): Contemporary Youth as Consumers


Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers.  SKIP chapters 6 and 11.


Eric Schlossen, Fast Food Nation, p. 78-88. In coursepack.

August 7 (Thursday): Contemporary Youth as Cultural Producers



Karen Green and Tristan Taormino, eds. A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution (excerpts in coursepack)