PS 20

Political-Economic Development and Material Culture

9 units (3-0-6)  |  second term
During the 19th-century the American economy, despite the Civil War, caught up to and surpassed all European economies. How did the likes of Singer, John Deere and Seth Thomas - latecomers to the markets they served-come to dominate those markets both domestically and internationally? Why did the technology of interchangeable parts and mass production become known as 'the American system' when much of that technology was imported from Europe? What role did government play in facilitating or thwarting innovation and economic growth? This course will explore such questions as reflected in the ordinary things people collect under the label 'antiques'. What do we learn from the fact that we can document a half dozen American manufacturers of apple peelers but not a single comparable European company? Why is the hand sewn quilt a nearly unique American folk art form and what does the evolution of quilting patterns tell us about technology and economic prosperity? What do baking powder cans as a category of collectible tell us about the politics of federal versus state regulation? Students will be expected to each choose a topic that asks such questions and to explore possible answers, all with an eye to understanding the interplay of economics, politics, and demography.
Instructor: Ordeshook

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