American Radicalism

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This course will examine cultural radicalism in American thought from the Young Americans of the 1910s and the New York Intellectuals of the 1930s to the Beat poets of the 1950s and the Neo-Conservatives of the 1970s. Through figures such as Randolph Bourne, John Dewey, Meyer Schapiro, Lewis Mumford, C. Wright Mills and Dorothy Day, we will trace the rise and fall of the American avant-garde, the quest for an indigenous theory of culture, the social sources of counterculture, and the shifting meanings of the concepts "mass culture," "consumer culture," "kitsch," and highbrow/middlebrow/lowbrow. Among the questions we will address are: Can one be a political radical and a cultural conservative? A political conservative and a cultural radical?

3 credits

Course Code: SS 394

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.