Designed as an interdisciplinary course, the work we do in this class is part history, part visual culture analysis, and part cultural anthropology.

The Liberty Bell. Lincoln. Barbie. Route 66. Disneyland. Elvis. Ali. These are all American Icons. This class explores iconic images of America as a way to understand the central myths, promises, and ideas behind the nation – ideas about freedom, individuality, democracy, mobility, second chances, masculinity and femininity, race, and class. Each unit will focus on an individual icon, its origins, what it represented, and how this representation has changed over time and place. The course will invite a critical analysis of these icons and their economic and cultural impact in a global context.

Sample Icons with links to relevant web sources:

Betsy Ross

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s history of the Betsy Ross Legend:

John Henry

From the Smithsonian: Prison: Camp B, Parchman Farm, Mississippi, 1947; Dance Tune: Hillsville, VA (1959); Ed Lewis Version, Camp B, Parchman Farm (1959); Odetta via Spotify; Willie Turner (1955)

The West

Timothy O’Sullivan’s West: ; and explore The Third View:

Also Sherman Alexie’s “War Dances”

The Wizard of Oz

1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

The Migrant Mother

Library of Congress, “Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview” ttp:// and this follow-up piece on Florence Owens Thompson:

Wonder Woman

Jill Lepore’s “The Last Amazon,”

Rosie the Riveter

The website for Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park  Read/or listen to one of the Rosie Oral Histories at the Bancroft Library.


Edgar Allan Poe

On Edgar Allan Poe and Philadelphia and “The Great Poe Debate” from 1/13/2009

The Road


Liberty Bell

***At Temple University, this class was first developed by Bryant Simon (please see his class blog here).


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