U.S. Society Area Goals

GenEd U.S. Society courses strengthen students’ understanding of the history, society, culture and political systems of the United States.

They are intended to teach students how to:

  • Access and analyze historical, analytical, and cultural materials;
  • Develop observations and conclusions about selected themes in US society and culture;
  • Construct interpretations using evidence and critical analysis;
  • Communicate and defend interpretations; and
  • Analyze the ways difference and heterogeneity have shaped the culture and society of the U.S.


The American Economy

Should the federal government more forcefully engage health care issues, or are its current obligations a hidden time bomb facing the federal budget? Should we be concerned about the outsourcing of U.S. jobs? Is the minimum wage too low, or will increases in the minimum simply lead to greater unemployment? Students will engage these and other pressing issues, write position papers advocating specific actions that governments or firms should take, and debating these recommendations. While economic theory is not the centerpiece of this course, students will learn enough economic theory to be able to discuss policy in an informed manner. They will also be introduced to important sources of “economic” information, from government web sites to major publications.

American Military Culture

You live in a country that possesses the world’s strongest military forces. Up through the Vietnam War, Americans viewed military service in wartime as a basic obligation for all adult male citizens – the ultimate test of their patriotism and manhood – but a temporary sacrifice that ceased for most on the return of peace. Today, the American people have outsourced their awesome war-making power to a restricted number of men and women –many of whom consider military service their career. We will explore the distinctive culture that shapes the composition and behavior of America’s armed forces and probe how it reflects the strengths and weaknesses of American society.

American Revolutions

From the first encounters with Native Americans to the present, a series of pivotal moments have had an enduring influence on American society, culture, and politics. In each class, three modules, will focus on three pivotal moments, such as King Philip’s War, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the Scopes trial, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the emergence of Elvis Presley, the sexual revolution, the rise of environmentalism, the Reagan Revolution, and 9-11. In each module, students will first place the main subject of the module in context, and then seek to understand how it changed American society. The last week of each module will be devoted to a consideration of how the subject of that module has become part of American collective memory.

Contemporary American Social Movements

Social movements range from identity-based movements (such as the civil rights movement and the gay and lesbian rights movement) to issue-based movements (such anti-globalization and animal rights) to ideological movements (such as the free software movement and the green movement). The course introduces students to contemporary American social movements and their counter-movements, dominant strategies and tactics movements use to communicate with a larger public, and individual campaigns within the larger framework of social movement from both theoretical and applied perspectives.

Dissent in America

ENGLISH 0849, 0949, HISTORY 0849, 0949, SOCIOLOGY 0849
Throughout American history individuals and groups of people, have marched to the beat of a different drummer, and raised their voices in strident protest. Study the story and development of dissent in America. How has dissent shaped American society? In addition to studying the historical antecedents of dissent students will have first-hand experience visiting and studying a present-day dissent organization in the Philadelphia area to investigate connections between the history of dissent and the process of making dissenting opinion heard today.

Doing Justice

Justice agencies – the juvenile justice system, police, judges and juries in courts, and prisons – are expected to create justice in response to lawbreakers. These agencies, however, often operate under enormous political, cultural, social, organizational and economic pressures. Further, what citizens or local leaders sometimes want from these agencies may create challenges and temptations. Thus, just outcomes are sometimes elusive. Focusing on the period 1925-2025 and largely on Philadelphia data, students will explore conceptual frameworks in the sociology of law, research articles, movies, maps, Census data, historical documents and newspaper archives to help understand these outcomes.

Education in the Global City

We are in the midst of vast global change. How does it impact cities like Philadelphia and the people who live here? In this course we focus mainly on education in the city, but this doesn’t mean we look only at schools. Globalization is creating new possibilities for learning: we have instant access to vast networks of information, migration is bringing rich cultural diversity to our doorsteps, and we learn in many different types of schools and communities. But globalization is also creating new problems that education must address: new kinds of poverty, increasingly separate lives, mounting intolerance, a digital divide. This course explores what education in all its form can do to support the American dream for people in the city, nation, and the world. Our exploration goes beyond the classroom, linking academic and community-based learning. The course has a common core of knowledge and each small section also features a different theme related to this core. Section themes may include (1) school choice, (2) immigrants and diversity, (3) technology and the digital divide, (4) advocacy for excluded groups, and (5) violence and conflict resolution.

First Person America

Examine the private and public lives of a diverse cast of Americans over a long sweep of the nation’s history. Along the way, look at how fundamental conflicts—between the local and the national, freedom and equality, inclusion and exclusion, community and the individual—have driven U.S. history from its very beginnings, how they have shaped these individual lives and how these individuals have molded the debates. Learn to use a range of sources–including autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, personal narratives, profiles, bio-pics, self-portraits, visual and performance pieces—as you investigate these American stories and American tensions.

Founding Philadelphia

Explore the rich colonial and early American history of Philadelphia through lectures and readings as well as trips and tours of cultural and historical sites. As we discover the social, cultural, and political events that shaped a city and a nation, and evaluate how these historical events and figures are viewed today, we will ask: Is there a great discrepancy between myth and reality? What does our view of the past say about the present? In what ways can Philadelphia be viewed as a microcosm of the United States and in what ways does the development of Philadelphia, through political turmoil, industrial growth, and the creation of ethnic neighborhoods by a constant flood of immigrants, tie in with global developments?

Gender in America

Being a man or a woman means feeling like a man or a woman. People display gender by learning the routines and expectations associated with being male or female. How do people learn gender? How does living in a gendered society lead to differences in power and opportunities between men and women? How do race, ethnicity and sexuality affect the way gender is experienced for these different groups? How does gender acquire such important meaning in terms of identity and behavior? Using a variety of written materials including novels that explore gender identity construction, this course looks at how gender has become such a prominent feature of life in America.

Higher Education and American Life: Mirror to a Nation

You have decided to go to college. But why? What role will college and in particular Temple University play in your life? Reflect on this important question by looking at the relationship between higher education and American society. What do colleges and universities contribute to our lives? They are, of course, places for teaching and learning. They are also research centers, sports and entertainment venues, sources of community pride and profit, major employers, settings for coming-of-age rituals (parties, wild times, courtship, etc.), and institutions that create lifetime identities and loyalties. Learn how higher education is shaped by the larger society and how, in turn, it has shaped that society. Become better prepared for the world in which you have chosen to live for the next few years.

Justice in America

Engage in an interdisciplinary examination of one of U.S. society’s most enduring conflicts – the struggle to achieve an acceptable balance between state power to prevent and control crime, and the rights of individuals to be free from undue government coercion. Focusing primarily upon the structures and processes of the criminal justice system investigate a variety of criminal justice problems, and ponder questions about the legitimacy of the criminal law method of social control. Key questions include: How well is society doing in its efforts to prevent/control crime? How do those efforts rate in terms of securing a just balance between the rights of individuals and the coercive powers of the government? Are we doing things right? Are we doing the right things? What improvements should be made? How can we know/decide?

Landscape of American Thought

PHILOSOPHY 0824, 0924
America once was envisioned by its colonizers as a new world, as a city upon a hill beckoning to humanity. After centuries of conquest, enslavement, immigration, and political struggle, conditions for sustaining this early vision continue to evolve. Explore the emergence of some of the most distinctive and influential American voices to inform our national debate about freedom, the individual, race, democracy, and oppression, as it has unfolded over the past two centuries. Through consideration of selected works of some of the most renowned figures to shape the landscape of American public discourse, we return to face the question of the promise of America, as it plays out today in the thought of some of the leading public intellectuals of our time.

Law and American Society

LAW S.B.M, 0856, 0956
An intruder rushes into class, hits the professor in the face with a pie, and runs out. You are asked to provide a description of the assailant–and now you realize this was a demonstration of the faultiness of human memory in making eyewitness identification. Develop your understanding of the historical, socio-political and ethical context of the U.S. legal system as you follow the misadventures of a fictional family that gets caught up in various legal problems. Current events inform every assignment; you might analyze, for example, the case against McDonald’s brought on behalf of obese children, and then research legislation known as the “Cheeseburger Bill,” prohibiting such lawsuits. An exciting, multimedia environment makes learning vivid.

Living for Change

Autobiography is one of the lenses through which you will broaden your awareness of women’s involvement in, and influences on, U.S. political culture. Historically, women’s role has been mainly defined by their assigned gender roles as mothers and educators, tasked with imparting the values of their communities to the next generation of citizens. Broader social change, on the other hand, is generally thought of as taking place through political activism, and the most visible activists are traditionally thought of as being men. Only in the past forty years, research has revealed women’s engagement with a diverse range of political issues, including economic concerns, sexual and reproductive rights, and anti-racism. Learn how women were radical agents of change–by reading their own life stories.

Making of American Society: Melting Pot or Culture Wars?

Terrorism, illegal immigration, gay marriage, religious conflict, political in-fighting, corporate corruption, racial animosities, civil liberties assaults, media conglomeration, Wal-Mart goes to China and the rich get richer. America in the 21st Century is a contentious society. How did we get to this place in time? Examine what makes American society distinctive from other advanced industrial democracies as we study the philosophical origins of America, the development of social and economic relationships over time, and the political disputes dominating contemporary American life. The course relies heavily on perspectives from History, Sociology and Political Science to explain the challenges facing contemporary American society.

People, Places and The Environment

Have you ever thought about the relationship people have to their place—home, neighborhood, town, or city? How about to the environment? Have you ever thought about how people have shaped the places of our everyday lives—suburban housing developments, shopping malls, and small towns? And, have you ever thought about what will happen in the future to the earth’s natural resources–the air, water, and land–as we continue to build and expand? Explore these kinds of questions that through readings, lectures, video presentations, and group discussions. Challenge your mind—and imagination—and open up new avenues of discovery.

Religion in Philadelphia

HISTORY 0876, 0976, RELIGION 0876, 0976
The argument is sometimes made that religion in dense urban spaces is characteristically very different from religion as it appears elsewhere. A study of religion in Philadelphia provides numerous ways to explore that idea, especially since the city encompasses a variety of ethnic and immigrant groups, encouraging the generation of new and hybrid forms of religious life that are less possible in smaller populations. Learn how ideas of toleration and freedom, the urban environment, and immigration helped to define the role of religion in the life of this city. Study various religious traditions as they are manifested in the greater Philadelphia area and look at the influences religion has had on the fabric of Philadelphia’s history and cultural life including politics, art, education, journalism and popular culture. You will be visit and write about various religious sites and institutions.

Sounds of a Revolution

Explore the history of the Uptown Theater and the North Philadelphia neighborhood just north of Temple University that surrounded the music hall. This is not a simple or nostalgic journey down memory lane. It will dig deep into the history of the Uptown Theater to help you better understand the complex processes and interactions of urban change and the shifting geographies and meanings of race and popular culture in postwar America. You will learn about the close connections between music and society, art and commerce. At the same time, you will explore the processes and politics of recovering of the past and reconstructing living histories out of the rumble and silences of yesterday. That is because, in addition, to being an interdisciplinary study of the city and popular culture, this course will serve as in introduction to public history –preserving the past to enhance understanding of the present.

Sport & Leisure in American Society

Explore the complexity and diversity of American society through the study of sport and leisure. To what extent does the way we play or spectate sports, the way we plan or experience leisure time, reflect American values? As we trace a brief history of the United States through the lens of sport and leisure, we will observe how concepts of freedom, democracy and equality are tested through time. Issues of race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, and socio-economic class will be prominent, as we observe American ideals both upheld and contradicted in the context of the way Americans recreate.

The US Constitution and Popular Culture

LAWU 0825
What does popular culture have to do with the U.S. Constitution? The relationship between them is a two-way street: constitutional law regulates and inspires popular culture, while popular culture parodies, dilutes, and reinforces constitutional law. We will discover how websites, internet mash-ups, comics, films, music, and comedy television intersect with constitutional principles. In class, students will watch and hear popular culture works, including full-length films, video parodies, cartoons, and music. We will identify parts of popular culture restricted by the Constitution as well as those parts the Constitution celebrates. Using the lens of popular culture, we will explore how the U.S. Supreme Court operates and how the Constitution protects rights such as free speech, criminal procedure protections, and other freedoms. The course will trace popular culture references to court decisions about medical marijuana, love triangles, violent video games, cross burning, abortion, homosexual conduct, interracial marriage, obscenity, gun rights, women’s rights, and school desegregation.

Urban Dynamics: Global, Regional, and Local Connections

U.S. cities in the twenty-first century face enormous challenges as globalization shapes flows of people, capital, information, resources, and ideas/culture in an increasingly interconnected, yet geographically dispersed world. The course asks: What is globalization? How are different people’s lives in cities shaped by these flows? How do gender, age, race/ethnicity, class, and citizenship status affect people’s experiences in different urban contexts? How do urban interventions—from public policy to social movements—advance social justice across groups, places, and spaces? Topics include economic and political restructuring, the globalization of ethnic/racial relations, citizenship and public space, the spatial dynamics of uneven development, and urban inequalities.