New York and the Nation, 1863-2001

Tutor: David Huyssen

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00105I

New York City offers a unique lens on the U.S. past, occupying a central place in the history of some of the nation’s most defining arenas: commerce, commercialism, immigration, assimilation, global financial dominance, and stark inequality, to name just a few. Its history also illuminates phenomena usually associated with other parts of the country: violent racism and the African-American experience (the South), political corruption and national power (Washington, D.C.), or the labor movement (Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh). For all that it is “American,” however, New York also remains the anomaly par excellence, the city most often reviled as “un-American.” How is it possible for New York to be so American, and yet for so many Americans, so decidedly not?

Through histories, novels, poems, film, and art this course will unravel an answer to that question by investigating aspects of New York’s social, cultural, and political-economic history from the Civil War through the 20th century. It will also familiarize students with various historiographies of New York and the United States, including those focusing on class, immigration, gender, sexual orientation, and race. Students will learn how these historical interpretations inform, influence, and contradict each other, expanding the breadth of historical understanding in the process.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

  • Draft Riot and “Second Founding”
  • Bourgeoisie Triumphant?
  • Progressivism
  • African-American life in the City
  • Queer City
  • Robert Moses and the Era of Urban Crisis
  • Wall Street Ascendant
  • City of Immigrants
  • September 11, 2001: City and Nation


Project work will consist of an independent group research enterprise, the culmination of which will be a biographical presentation on an exemplary or historically important New Yorker. The presentation will draw explicit analytical links between local and national (and/or international) history, and will be supplemented with short bibliographical essays for each section.