History 364: History of American Suburbia



Matt Lassiter                                                                                                               Fall 2009

mlassite@umich.edu                                                                                                   Tu/Th 11:30-1:00

Office: 2513 Haven Hall                                                                                                   1202 SEB


Office Hours: Thurs. 2:00-4:00 pm, and by appointment


Course Webpage: CTools: History 364 001 F09 [https://ctools.umich.edu/portal]


Graduate Student Instructors:

Anthony Ross             <anthross@umich.edu>                       Sections 003, 004, 009

David Schlitt                <dmschlit@umich.edu>                       Sections 005, 007, 008



In post-1945 U.S. history, the suburbs have emerged as the dominant method of social organization, the primary focus of land-use planning, and the center of political power.  Critics have blamed suburbia for everything from the abandonment of the cities to the alienation of youth to the environmental devastation of sprawl.  Defenders have praised the suburbs for the safety of their neighborhoods, the quality of their schools, and the broad expansion of the middle-class "American Dream" of a detached, single-family home.  This course will grapple with the dominant themes and legacies of suburbanization in modern America through a focus on popular culture; social and political history; race, class, gender, and generational analysis; urban planning policies and environmental consequences.  Did the same forces that produced the sprawling suburbs also create the urban crisis?  How does a metropolitan approach to modern American history recast discussions about the rise and fall of the New Deal Order, the power shift from Rustbelt to Sunbelt, the changing ideologies of class and race, the politics of family and community, and the relationship between local and national policies?  How can the increasing diversity and dynamism of the suburbs be reconciled with the pervasive stereotypes of architectural blandness and cultural conformity?  What does it mean to say that the United States has become a "Suburban Nation"?


Lecture themes and discussion topics range from Levittown to Columbine, from the "Feminine Mystique" to the black middle class, from the "Silent Majority" to the anti-sprawl movement.  We will begin by confronting the dominant discourses of suburbia in American politics and pop culture, and the course will focus extensively on films, novels, and other mass media sources as key shapers of suburban identity.  We will pay close attention to the periodic battles over inclusion and exclusion in suburban communities, including political conflicts over school desegregation and housing integration.  Throughout the semester, we will examine the changing meaning of the "suburban" label, as middle-class bedroom communities have evolved into autonomous horizontal cities no longer dependent on the urban core, and as suburban areas have become home to a majority of immigrants and poor Americans and a near majority of racial and ethnic minorities. 


Requirements:  Students are expected to attend lectures regularly, to be present at all discussion sections, and to be prepared and participate actively in the section meetings.  Assigned films should be watched in advance of the weekly discussion section.  Students should consult the History 364 CTools site routinely for reading material, graded assignments, research links, class updates, and general course information.  In addition, your GSI will distribute a discussion section syllabus with additional information. 


Lecture Outlines:  The lecture outlines will be available for printing or downloading on CTools in the Resources/Lecture Outlines folder by the morning before the class meeting. 


Films:  We will watch six films outside of regularly scheduled class meetings.  Students should analyze films with the same rigor as reading assignments—as historical documents and as cultural texts—taking notes in preparation for discussion section and in anticipation of graded assignments.  Each film will be available in streaming video format through the History 364 CTools site—best viewed with a broadband (not wireless) connection with the Quicktime 7 player or better required.  Films will also be played on the big screen starting at 8:10 p.m. on the Sunday evening immediately before the relevant discussion sections, all in Angell Auditorium C.


Film #1            Sept. 13                       Happiness                               139 min.

Film #2            Sept. 27                       A Raisin in the Sun                  128 min.

Film #3            Oct. 4              The Graduate                          106 min.

Film #4            Oct. 25                        Ordinary People                     124 min.

Film #5            Nov. 8             Falling Down                          113 min.

Film #6            Nov. 29                       Thirteen                                   99 min.


Discussion Projects:  On six occasions during the semester, discussion projects will include a short (one page, single-spaced) written assignment that should be completed by the start of section.  These include responses to films and readings, summaries of oral interviews/family research projects, and an urban planning report.  The details for the discussion projects can be found in the Resources/Discussion Projects folder on the CTools site [denoted as CT below].


Graded Assignments: The guidelines for graded assignments also will be posted on CTools in a timely fashion.  Anything covered in the course—reading assignments, films, lectures—is fair game for the final exam, although it will be tilted toward the material after the midterm.  A final exam review guide also will be available on CTools before the end of classes.  All four components listed below must be completed in order to receive a passing grade in the course.     


*Discussion: consistent attendance, active participation, discussion projects (30%)

            *A 5-page midterm, take-home essay assignment, based on course readings (20%)

            *A 9-10 page research paper, based on primary and secondary sources (25%)

            *A comprehensive final exam on Dec. 16, 1:30-3:30, in 1202 SEB (25%)


Style Guide: The History 364 Style Guide is available on CTools in the Resources Folder.  These guidelines should be followed for the midterm essay and the research paper, and they also explain issues such as the documentation of sources and the penalties for plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty.


Academic Minor:  History 364 counts as a "perspectives" class under the requirements for the Academic Minor in Urban and Community Studies.  For more information about this minor program, contact the Academic Services Office of the Residential College.


Metropolitan History Speaker Series:  I am the organizer of a metropolitan history initiative that brings outside scholars to campus for lectures/panel discussions.  Students in History 364 are encouraged to attend, and I will send an email to the class with more details about each event.


            *Jefferson Cowie: "Stayin' Alive: The Working Class in the 1970s" (Sept. 25)

            *Darren Dochuk and Michelle Nickerson, "Sunbelt Rising" (Nov. 6)

            *Bryant Simon: "Learning about America from Starbucks" (Nov. 12)





1. Electronic Reader [ER]:  A selection of articles and book chapters is available on CTools in the Resources/Electronic Reader section.  These assignments are denoted as [ER] in the syllabus.  Some are pdf files, and others are hyperlinks to primary documents available on the web. 


2. Required Books:  The following books are available for purchase online and at area bookstores that participate in the U-M textbook system (Ulrich's, Michigan Book and Supply, Michigan Union).  One copy of each is on reserve at Shapiro Undergraduate Library.


Dean Bakopoulos, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon

Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States

Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

Kirse Granat May, Golden State, Golden Youth: The California Image in Popular Culture

Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

David L. Kirp, John Dwyer, and Larry Rosenthal, Our Town: Race, Housing, and the Soul of Suburbia

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

Elinor Burkett, Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Andres Duany, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream



Course Outline


Week 1—Introduction


Sept. 8:  The Suburban Crisis


Sept. 10:  Mapping the Metropolis


**Discussion Reading: Robert Fishman, "The American Metropolis at Century's End: Past and Future Influences" [ER]

*Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, "Divided We Sprawl," Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 1999) [ER]

*David Brooks, "Patio Man and the Sprawl People," The Weekly Standard (Aug. 12 &19, 2002) [ER]

*Eyal Press, "The New Suburban Poverty," The Nation (April 23, 2007) [ER]

*Richard Florida, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” The Atlantic (March 2009) [ER]



Week 2—Suburban Discourses


Sept. 15:  Suburban Pathology                       


Sept. 17:  Suburban Exceptionalism


**Discussion Reading: Bakopoulos, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon


**Film #1: Happiness, dir. Todd Solondz, 1998, 139 min. (9/13 screening)


**Discussion Project #1: American Dreams [CT]



Week 3—Origins of Suburbia


Sept. 22:  Planning Utopian Communities


Sept. 24:  Reconstructing the "American Dream"


**Discussion Reading: Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier (Introduction, Chapters 8-16)

            *"Housing: Up from the Potato Fields," Time (July 3, 1950) [ER]

            *"Americana: The Roots of Home," Time (June 20, 1960) [ER]



Week 4—Fifties America


Sept. 29:  The "Affluent Society"


Oct. 1:  The Domestic Crisis


**Discussion Reading: Yates, Revolutionary Road


**Film #2: A Raisin in the Sun, dir. Daniel Petrie, 1961, 128 min. (9/27 screening)


**Discussion Project #2: Family History Project [CT] (due either Week 4 or 5)



Week 5—Culture of Containment


Oct. 6:  The Baby Boom


Oct. 8:  Cold War Suburbs


**Discussion Reading: May, Golden State, Golden Youth

*Students for a Democratic Society, "The Port Huron Statement" (1962) [ER]


**Film #3: The Graduate, dir. Mike Nichols, 1967, 106 min. (10/4 screening)


**Discussion Project #2: Family History Project [CT] (due either Week 4 or 5)



Week 6—Suburban Rebels


Oct. 13:  The Silent Majority


Oct. 15:  Class Traitors


**Discussion Reading: "Youth: The Hippies," Time (July 7, 1967) [ER]

            *"When the Young Teach and the Old Learn," Time (Aug. 17, 1970) [ER]

            *"Man and Woman of the Year: The Middle Americans" Time (Jan. 5, 1970) [ER]

            *Richard Lemon, "The Troubled American" (pp. 13-40, 65-75, 211-219) [ER]

            *Robert Coles, "The Middle Americans" (pp. 43-49, 95-106) [ER]



**Oct. 16—Midterm Essay Due [CT]



Week 7The Urban Crisis


Oct. 20:  Fall Break (no class)


Oct. 22:  Motor City


**Discussion Reading: Thomas Sugrue, "Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction Against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964" (pp. 551-578) [ER]

*Detroit News Special Report, "A Time of Tragedy" (Aug. 11, 1967) [ER]

*Kerner Commission, "Summary" and "Future of the Cities" (pp. 1-29, 389-409) [ER]

*Stanley Greenberg, "Macomb County in the American Mind" (pp. 23-54) [ER]

            *Detroit News Special Reports, "The Cost of Segregation" (2002) and "Where We Stand" (2007) [ER]


**Discussion Project #3: Historical Memory Project [CT]


**Discussion sections will meet this week (Tuesday sections to be rescheduled)



Week 8—Middle-Class Malaise


Oct. 27:  Family Values


Oct. 29:  Teenage Wasteland


**Discussion Reading: Ellis, Less Than Zero

            *"Twentysomething: Proceeding with Caution," Time (July 16, 1990) [ER]


**Film #4: Ordinary People, dir. Robert Redford, 1980, 124 min. (10/25 screening)



Week 9—The "New American Dilemma"?


Nov. 3:  Housing and Neighborhoods


Nov. 5:  Schools and Democracy


**Discussion Reading: Kirp, Dwyer, and Rosenthal, Our Town: Race, Housing, and the Soul of Suburbia


**Discussion Project #4: Class and Race [CT]



Week 10—Postsuburban America


Nov. 10:  California Dreamin'


Nov. 12: The Sunbelt Mystique


**Discussion Reading: Davis, City of Quartz (Prologue, Chapters 3-5)

            *"Marauders from Inner City Prey on L.A.'s Suburbs," Los Angeles Times (July 12, 1981) [ER]

            *Kurt Andersen, "Los Angeles: The New Ellis Island," Time (June 13, 1983) [ER]  


**Film #5: Falling Down, dir. Joel Schumacher, 1993, 113 min. (11/8 screening)



Week 11—Suburban Diversity


Nov. 17:  Black Suburbs


Nov. 19: Global Suburbs


**Discussion Reading: Andrew Wiese, "Places of Their Own" (pp. 209-13, 225-68) [ER]

            *David J. Dent, "The New Black Suburbs," New York Times Magazine (June 14, 1992), pp. 18-25 [ER]

            *Sheryll Cashin, "Dilemmas of Place and Suburbanization of the Black Middle Class" (pp. 87-110) [ER]

            *Marie Price and Audrey Singer, "Immigrants, Suburbs, and the Politics of Reception in Metropolitan Washington" (pp. 136-65) [ER]

            *Kristin Hill Maher, "Borders and Social Distinction in the Global Suburb" (pp. 781-806) [ER] 

            *"The New White Flight," Wall Street Journal (Nov. 19, 2005) [ER]



Week 12—Suburban Political Majority


Nov. 24:  Swing Voters


Nov. 26:  Thanksgiving (no class)


**Discussion sections do not meet this week



**Nov. 25—Research Paper Due [CT]



Week 13— Culture of Fear 


Dec. 1:  Suburban Panics


Dec. 3: Victims and Heroes


**Discussion Reading: Burkett, Another Planet (pp. 1-40, 57-234, 245-321)

            *Columbine Electronic Packet [ER]


**Film #6: Thirteen, dir. Catherine Hardwicke, 2003, 99 min. (11/29 screening)


**Discussion Project #5: High School Investigation [CT]



Week 14—Metropolitan Planning


Dec. 8:  Sprawl and Smart Growth


Dec. 10:  The Regionalism Agenda 


**Discussion Reading: Plater-Zyberk, Duany, and Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream


**Discussion Project #6: Urban Planning Project [CT]



**Dec. 16—Final Exam       1:30-3:30 p.m. (1202 SEB)