HENK0391CU English - Free topic 5: Visions of the Folk in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century American Culture

Volume 2016/2017

This interdisciplinary American Studies course will consider how the "folk" and "folk life" have been represented in various American cultural forms from autobiography to fiction and film and popular music. We will consider how issues such as race, class, authenticity, and genre influence understandings of who, where, and when the "folk" were, as well as related ideas of "folk culture" or "folkways."


The course will begin with W.E.B Du Bois' extremely influential formulation of black southern/African American "folk" life and forms in _The Souls of Black Folk_, and consider its impact on later cultural figurations of the "black folk": i.e, during the Harlem Renaissance and Zora Neale Hurston's fiction and anthropological work in the rural South. We will proceed to consider representations of the rural white working-class during the Great Depression of the 1930s, focusing on the "Okie" migration to California depicted in John Steinbeck's novel _The Grapes of Wrath_ (1939), and the highly self-conscious, formally innovative representation of poor white southerners in James Agee and Walker Evans' pioneering documentary text _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men_ (1941). The course will subsequently proceed to consider the politics and aesthetics of "folk revival" in Greenwich Village during the early 1960s, in particular through the early work of Bob Dylan, before turning to Dylan's fabled "Basement Tapes" in 1967, which the influential cultural critic Greil Marcus has read for their links to an "old, weird America" in earlier "folk" and blues songs. We will conclude by considering more recent representations of the "folk" in the U.S. South in films like _O Brother Where Art Thou?_ and recent popular music formulations of folk, Americana and "alt-folk."

Course texts will be selected from (NB: subject to change): W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (1935) and/or selected short stories, John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell, You Have Seen Their Faces (1939), Richard Wright, selected stories from Uncle Tom's Children (1938), Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan (1962 LP), The Freewheelin' (1963, LP) and The Basement Tapes (double LP first released in 1975), Greil Marcus, The Old, Weird America: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, O Brother Where Art Thou? (film, 2000) and selected songs by recent Americana, folk and "alt-folk" musicians.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 176,75
  • Total
  • 204,75