Our homes reflect our most basic values and shape our lives. In this course we will think about four centuries of American homes as shelters, "machines for living in" and reflections and transmitters of core beliefs. What do houses tell us about the place of individuals in our society and the meaning of family, neighborhood, and nation?
MWF 2:30-3:20 pm
We will look at iconic American houses, such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and also visit our own backyard, the residential streets of Valparaiso. Students will acquire the basic tools necessary to “read” and interpret houses: knowledge of architectural styles, interior finishes, and furnishings as they changed over time. But ultimately, our goal will be to use these skills to address larger historical questions. For example, how can plantation architecture help us understand a social system based on slavery? What does the nineteenth-century middle-class home teach us about gender relations and domesticity in Victorian America? What can we learn about modern America by studying gated communities, apartment complexes, or housing projects? Addressing these and other questions will enable us to use material culture evidence—the fabric of the American home—to better understand American society past and present.
Students will read a variety of books and articles that examine architecture, interiors, and neighborhoods primarily from a social history perspective. Key works will include Elizabeth Cromley and Thomas Carter, Invitation to Vernacular Architecture; Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia; Witold Rybczynski, Home: A Short History of an Idea; and Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America. In addition, all students will make sustained and important contributions to our joint class project: a study of part of the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of campus. This project will include house study, research in local historical and government records, and interviews with current and past residents. Each student will complete a research paper linked to the Hilltop neighborhood project.