Making Love: Romance in American Culture


Department of History

HIST 296.002

Making Love: Romance In American Culture

Brett Abrams
Anne Marisic
Spring 2002 Ward 6 Brattelle 123 Brattelle
M 5:30 -8:00 pm x-8981 x-

I. Overview

This course surveys the variety of ways US culture has understood romance over the last 350 years. Lectures and readings illustrate the emotional standards, attitudes and behaviors that have been considered appropriate and fundamental to courtship, sexuality, and marriage. The course will examine how these factors changed over time and reveal the constructed nature of love and marriage, gender and sexual roles. Like sexual identity, romantic attitudes and behaviors are interpreted in Western culture as a central component of personality. They have been key aspects in the development of popular culture genres (romance novels) and in the focus of our current celebrity culture. While observing the important roles of the medical community and the law, this course will concentrate on the mass media and its activities in reinforcing and altering perceptions regarding romance. Students will use the methods of historical investigation as they examine the role of a genre of popular culture in the construction of attitudes toward romance.

II. Requirements

1. Attendance (5%)
2. Participation in class discussion (10%)
3. analysis of a week’s reading (10%)
4. Participation in class research presentation (15%)
5. Mid-Term examination (30%)
6. Term Paper of 12-20 pages (30%)

1. Attendance Regular attendance is important. An attendance rester will be circulated at each class meeting; your signature on the attendance roster will be the official record for who has attended each class. It is your responsibility to sign the roster at each class meeting.

A = 0-1 unexcused absences; B = 2 unexcused absenses; C = 3 unexcused absenses; D = 4 unexcused absenses; F = 5 or more unexcused absenses.

2. Class participation Every student is expected to have read and engaged with the assigned readings for every week. Students are expected to participate in the discussions of these materials. Participation in response to group presentations is also expected.

3. Analysis of week’s reading This is due on class three. It describes the readings due for that week. See the description of this assignment on page 4 of this syllabus.

4. Class research presentation. Each student will be a member of a group that will be investigating the scholarship on romance in a type of mass-produced culture. Each student will come to the second class meeting with an idea of what area of mass-produced culture they want to investigate. This includes areas such as sentimental novels before the Civil War, modern dance in the 20th century, jazz in the mid-20th century. Please read the section on the Group Presentation at the end of this syllabus for more information.

5. Mid-Term examination. This will be an in-class examination given at the eight meeting of the course. It will include both identifications and essays. You will be given detailed suggestions about how to prepare for the exam.

6. Term Paper. Each student must hand in at the end of the semester a 12-20 page paper detailing the arguments of a number of books and articles about a type of popular culture and its comments on love, romance, dating and marriage. Please read the section on the Term Paper at the end of this syllabus for more information.

III. Evaluation of Student Performance

1. Grades IMPORTANT: Inorder to obtain a passing grade for this course, you must complete all assignments.

A Superior work (exhibits originality, clarity, precision, and depth as well as mastery of the content of the course; written assignments are in clear, correct English).

B Good work (content of course firmly in control and handled with some mark of distinction; written assignments are in clear, correct English).

C Competent work (control of content of course evident; written assignments are in clear, correct English).

D Less than competent work (deficiencies in either control of content of course or in writing).

F Failure to meet requirements with even minimal competence.

X Failure to complete all requirements.

I Incomplete (must be approved in advance by the instructor).

2 Grading Policies

a. All work will receive comments as well as a letter grade.

b. Assignments are due on time. Without a bona fide excuse (preferably approved in advance by the instructor), late assignments will be penalized 1/2 grade for each class meeting that they are overdue.

3. Plagiarism and Academic Honesty A plagiarized paper will be recognized and will not ulfill the assignment. The offense will be reported to the Dean of CAS for academic discipline. It is expected that students will adhere to the University’s Academic Integrity Code.

IV. REQUIRED READINGS (Paperback : in bookstore)

John D’Emilio and Estelle Friedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America.
Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.
Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America
Peter N. Stearns and Jan Lewis, eds. An Emotional History of the United States
John C. Fout, ed. American Sexual Politics: sex, gender, and race since the Civil War

1/14 Week One: Introduction—What is Love?
Social Construction of love and romance in Western culture. What is the theory and practice of the study of love and sexual behavior in history.

The class does not meet on January 21 because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Part 1: Spiritual and Dutiful Pairings

1/28 Week Two: Spiritual Love: Romance in the Separate Spheres Era
Readings: Cott, 1-55; Steele and Blewett articles in Stearns and Lewis; Bailey, p. 1-24. Screen: Sense and Sensibility (1995). Selection of groups and slots for presentations.

2/4 Week Three: Cheap Amusements and the Erosion of Courtship
Readings: Hodes article in Fout; Kathy Peiss, “‘Charity Girls’ and City Pleasures: Historical Notes on Working-Class Sexuality, 1880-1920,” in Politics & Power (handout). Screen: The Heiress (1949). Analysis of Week Three readings due.

2/11 Week Four: Helping Professions & The Demise of Duty-based Marriage
Paper Topics due. Readings: Cott, 105-131; d’Emilio and Friedman, chapters 9-10; Mumford in Fout. Examination of theater of the era.

Part 2: Sexual Liberalism

2/18 Week Five: Understanding and Interpreting Popular Culture
Readings: Introduction, Rethinking Popular Culture (handout). Theories on how to interpret movies to music from differing areas of scholarship. Student research presentations.

2/25 Week Six: Dating
Readings: Bailey, 25-76; d’Emilio and Friedman, chapter 11; White article in Stearns and Lewis. Student research presentations.

3/4 Week Seven: Companionate Marriage and the Development of Sexual Liberalism
Readings: Cott, 132-155; Spurlock and Shumay articles in Stearns and Lewis. Early movies about suffrage and their commentary on marriage. Student research presentations.

The Spring Break is the week of March 11.

3/18 Week Eight: Midterm Examination

3/25 Week Nine: Hollywood and Romance in the Thirties
Readings: Bailey, 77-118; Haag and duCille articles in Fout book. Student research presentations (if necessary). Screen: documentary on romantic comedies of the 1930s.

4/1 Week Ten: The Baby Boom and the “Complacent” 1950s
Readings: Cott, 156-179; Bailey 119-140; Faderman articles in Fout; d’Emilio and Friedman, chapter 12. Screen: I Love Lucy and Buelah episodes..

Part 3: The End of Sexual Liberalism and Today’s World

4/8 Week Eleven: Counterculture and Its Redefinition of Commitment
Readings: Cott, 180-199. Screen: Woodstock.

4/15 Week Twelve: Women’s Movement and Its Challenges to Gender Roles
Readings: d’Emilio and Friedman, chapter 13; bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Screen: Dreamworld.

4/22 Week Thirteen: The Gay and Lesbian Movement and Alternatives to Heterosexuality
Readings: Cott, 200-227; d’Emilio and Friedman, chapter 14; Gamson, Saint-Aubin articles in Fout. Screen: Trailers and my compilation of clips from queer movies..

4/29 Week Fourteen: Romance in the MTV Era
Readings: d’Emilio and Friedman, chapter 15; Chris Straayer, chapter one and four from Deviant eyes, deviant bodies.

5/6 Week Fifteen: Wrap Up & Discussion of Term Paper Findings
Term Papers Due.


Each member of the class must submit an analysis of ONE of the readings for week three at the beginning of the week three class. This is a 3-4 page critical assessment of the reading. These papers should include a summary of the authors’ main argument; a discussion of the sources, and theoretical position that the author uses; and a critique of the argument, including comparisons with the other readings for the week. This assignment serves as an exercise in practicing the kind of critical reading needed to assess the strengths and weaknesses of all written work. No late papers will be accepted.


Each member of the class will offer two areas of mass-produce culture that he/she wants to investigate at the second class meeting. The instructor will form groups of similarly-interested students. These groups of five to six members will be responsible for investigating the scholarly material that has been created about their area of mass-produced culture. Each student in the group should be given the primary responsibility for an area of the research. Examples of areas include, researching scholarly writings on the subject; examining potential primary research material, organizing all this material. Groups need to use a variety of materials in their presentations before the class. Examples of items beside handouts, include maps, computer screens, and mass media. Groups will be expected to discuss the status of their search and answer questions from the class in a 30-minute time slot. Each group is required to meet at least two weeks in advance with the course Teaching Assistant to conceptualize how they will accomplish their work. They will meet again with the Teaching Assistant to chart their progress at least one week before their group presentation.

The groups need to consider their presentations as preliminary attempts to answer the questions they will address individually in their term papers. Among the considerations of issues to explain in your presentation are the following:

What is the time period?
What region(s) of the US?
What is the type of popular culture being investigated?
Who do you think constituted the audience for this material?
What were the prevailing attitudes toward marriage?
What were the prevailing attitudes toward romance?
What were the prevailing attitudes toward the ways women should act?
What were the prevailing attitudes toward the ways men should act?
How does this material compare with other popular cultural material in its genre?
How does this material compare with other popular cultural material that preceded it?

Who has looked at this question previously?
What books and articles are published about this subject?
How does your thoughts on this question differ from these previous thinkers?

What body of material will you examine to investigate this question?
Where can you find this material so that you can experience it?
Does this material differ from the evidence used by previous scholars?
Does this material appear to be the best source(s) to answer this question?
What other material have I not considered that could be examined?
Are there any disadvantages to only using the selected material to address this question?

What are the messages regarding love and romance in the majority of the material that you are studying?
Who can and can’t find love and romance?
What attitudes and actions made the person successful in love and romance?
What attitudes and actions made the person unsuccessful in love and romance?
What are the ideas about love and romance put forward in this material?
How does sexual behavior influence love and romance in this material?


Papers should follow the general rules of composition and be word-processed with standard double spacing, 1-inch margins, and 11 or 12-point typeface. Title pages and covers are unnecessary. Pages should be numbered, stapled together, and spell-checked. Papers need to address the questions listed above in detail and ought to include other interesting questions that students discover on their own. Simply put, your paper needs to detail the arguments of a number of books and articles about a type of popular culture and its comments on love, romance, dating and marriage. This will constitute the bulk of the paper. Next, devote a portion of the paper to an analysis of those aspects of the individual author’s arguments that appear compelling and unconvincing to you. Please include interpretations and theoretical positions advanced in the course readings within their papers. These materials will help students build the proper historical context for their work, but will also inform the way they think about the primary material that they are analyzing.