Instructor: Professor James Miller

Course Description

This is an online course. There is no ‘live’ section and there are no classroom components. You can take this course from anywhere!

This course explores the popular culture of the United States from the early decades of the nineteenth century to the eve of US entry into World War I. The seminar will be shaped by several broad questions. First and foremost, what do we mean when we call culture “popular”? We will examine a variety of answers to this question, but our main focus will be on forms of entertainment that may or may not have had their roots in ‘the people’ but were certainly intended to attract a broad, even mass, audience. As part if this examination we will also consider the connections between popular culture and what came to be called mass culture. Topics will include minstrel shows and vaudeville theatre, the penny press and dime novels, world’s fairs and amusement parks, wild west shows and the early days of the US film industry. Through the examination and analysis of these topics we will pursue various themes, including the relationship of commerce to culture, the impact of technology and industrialization on leisure and entertainment, the connections between economic and social change and popular culture, and the growing influence of US culture on the rest of the world. Overall, we will keep in mind the question of how the popular culture of the period both reflected and shaped the history of the US itself.


The course is designed to ensure that, in total, its requirements–readings and viewings, research, and assignments–take up no more time than would a regular course consisting of three hours in the classroom and several hours per week of preparation time outside of it. There are, however, important differences from many other courses. The most important one is this: the structure of this course requires that you participate in a variety of ways EVERY week. Each week you will be required to engage with a variety of sources and materials such as readings, viewing of material online, and short introductory lectures by the instructor.  You will also show that you have done so through various assignments such as content-based quizzes and contributing to your online discussion group. It will not be possible to miss weeks and then ‘catch up’ at some later point.

 Assessment and Assignments:

  • Weekly quizzes based on required readings
  • Weekly contributions to discussion group
  • Writing assignment based on primary and secondary sources
  • Final Exam. A take-home essay exam. There will be a choice of questions

Technical requirements:

You will need access to high speed internet on a device equipped with the latest versions of Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Acrobat (both free downloads). You should be comfortable using cuLearn, either from using it in other courses or familiarizing yourself with it at the beginning of this one. It is recommended that you use either Firefox or Google Chrome to access cuLearn.

If you have any questions, please contact me at