General information

Module title History of Enterteinment in the USA
Language English
Module lecturer dr hab. Christopher Korten
Lecturer's email
Lecturer position assistant professor
Faculty Faculty of History
Semester 2021/2022 (summer)
Duration 30


Module aim (aims)

This course will narrate a cultural and social history of the United States in the 20th century through the medium of entertainment. Ethnic minorities, including and especially African Americans, as well as women will be featured in this class. Thus, individuals and their stories are a central part of this course. We will trace the rather primitive beginnings of Vaudeville and Burlesque to more advanced art forms including jazz, rock n’ roll and hip hop. Comedy and Acting – in Hollywood films - will be discussed through the experiences of women and African Americans. In analyzing this period of cultural history in the United States, key questions will be considered. What obstacles did immigrants, African Americans and women face in the entertainment world? How did politics effect this world? And to what extent did the arts and entertainment help promote the equality of sexes and races?

Pre-requisites in terms of knowledge, skills and social competences (where relevant)

Students are assessed on one semester-end exam. The exam questions will be drawn from the weekly lectures and the readings below. Students are allowed up to 3 absences in the semester. Assessment: Class participation 30% 2 tests 70%


Week 1 Introduction: overview of the course and a discussion of the American Cultural Experience of immigrants and women in the 20th century

Week 2 “Faceless Negroes”: Black face skits, Late 19th c.

Harry Houdini (Hungarian): Vaudeville and Public stunts, 1910s and 1920s Key Questions: I. How can Black Face Skits be considered a continuation of slavery in the US? II. How did Houdini rise to fame in the US? Videos to watch: (4:00, blackface) (3:30, Houdini) Read chapter 1, in LeRoy Ashby, With Amusement for All, 2006.

Week 3 Blues: Various African American artists, 1920s and 1930s Key Questions: I. Why did the Blues (and also Jazz) have such a bad reputation in the 1920s and early 30s? II. What changed this view? Videos to Watch: (7:00, short documentary) (2:25, Cotton Club and Duke Ellington) (Cab Calloway) (2:00, Blues as Hope) (Scott Joplin & Ragtime)

Weeks 4-5 Italian American Frank Sinatra and his ties to the Mafia and Las Vegas. The Ratpack: Sammy Davis Jr., Sinatra and Dean Martin Key Questions: I. How did the Mafia assist Sinatra in his career? II. Why did the Italian Mafia create Vegas? And what was their attitude to race? Video: (1:28:00, Sinatra Documentary)

Weeks 6-7 Entertainers during the Cold War: African American Paul Robeson and Englishman Charlie Chaplin ‘The Tramp’; ‘The Gold Rush’ (1925) and ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) and Jazz Ambassadors (with Louis Armstrong) Key Questions: I. Why the US government blacklist Robeson and Chaplin? II. What was the role of Jazz Ambassadors during the Cold War? Video: (4:00, Robeson, Ol’ Man River) (Robeson, in Russia) (26:00, Chaplin, the Immigrant)

Week 8 Female Comedians: Phyllis Diller and Joan Crawford and Ellen Degeneres Key Questions: I. What obstacles did early female comedians have to face? II. How is Ellen Degeneres seen as a transitional figure in American entertainment? Videos: (43:00, Diller Biography) (9:00, Degeneres, Oscar) (8:00, Degeneres and Oprah Winfrey, ‘Coming Out’)

Week 9 Actresses: Shirley Temple and Lucille Ball The first Kardashians: the Gabor Sisters (Hungarian Americans) Key Questions: I. What is Shirley Temple remembered for? II. What were the secrets of the Gabor sisters’ success? Videos: (1st 15:00, Temple) (Lucille Ball) (1:20:00, Gabor documentary) 0-1:52; 15:00-20:00; 30:20-33:40 (1:14-5:36; 8:34-11:11

Week 10 Sports Entertainment: African Americans Jackie Robinson and Muhammed Ali Key Questions: I. What were the obstacles and hardships that Jackie Robinson faced as the 1st African American in Professional Baseball? II. What made Muhammed Ali such a complex personality? III. General Question: How did sports help break down the race barriers in the US? Videos: (1:50:00, as much as you have time for, Jackie Robinson story) (9:40, Ali speeches – sorry - loud background music)

Week 11/12 Rock n’ Roll: Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry Key Questions: I. To what extent did Rock n’ Roll break down the racial barriers in the United States? II. What were early perceptions of Rock n’ Roll and how did attitudes change towards this genre? Videos: (5:00, Berry) (4:00, Jackson Five) (8:00, African American / Immigrant influence on Rock n’ Roll, #10, #8, #6, #3, #2) (4:00, Jimi Hendrix) (General)

Week 13-14 Hip Hop & Rap. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Dr Dre, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z Key Questions: I. How can you measure the influence of Hip Hop and Rap in the US and around the world? II. How did Hip Hop and Rap music transform race relations in the US? Videos: I. (30:00, Evolution of Hip Hop) II. (20:00, Evolution of Rap)

Week 15 Exam

Reading list

Required Listening: Youtube videos. Optional Readings: Michele Hilmes, Only Connect A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States (Wisconsin, 2011). Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz (Oxford, 1997). LeRoy Ashby , With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830, (2006).