2019-2020 Catalog

HIST 205 Urban History

According to Thomas Jefferson, America was to be an "agrarian Republic" - a pastoral farmland, a different world from the dirty and decaying cities of monarchical Europe. Yet, by Jefferson's day, it was already too late. North America had been dotted with great metropolises and minor towns for thousands of years, and new waves of European and African settlers founded hundreds of new ones, as well. Indeed, for many early migrants, America was itself a "city on the hill" - an urban image for a new society. In this course, we will survey American urban history from those early days to the present, focusing, in the second half, specifically on Los Angeles, where new forms of decentralized urbanism took form in the 20th century. We will not only explore suburbia and freeways, Disneyland, and other quasi­urban outposts, but also the changing character of the inner city in the mid-20th century, as well as radical efforts to reform existing American cities. In the process, we encounter the American city of today - multicentered, privately planned, decentralized, and multiethnic. We will conclude by asking whether contemporary developments in urbanism - the changing character of public space, the turn to privatism, the neglect of public transport infrastructures, and challenges to democracy and equality - are ultimately compatible with the American dream of the "city on the hill" for the 21st century.


4 units

Cross Listed Courses

UEP 205

Core Requirements Met

  • United States Diversity