Thanks, Nick Privitera, for your interest in our class. And thank you students – Chris, Lin Kabachia, Morgan Johnson, William Newman, Adam Rosenberg, Chance Sturup, and Sarah Yeilding – for pushing my thinking while I learn with you. Happy Holidays!
Even though I can’t dance, and know I’m getting old because my students have to tell me everything that is hip, videos like the one at the top of this entry remind me of some of the things I love about my job: you may not think the students are paying attention, but they are. That the student who made this video wasn’t even my student, but heard about what we were doing in my “The Nineteenth Century City” course from others and asked to follow the class all semester, was so cool. I am nervous about sharing because I can’t dance, but what the heck.
The video addresses in part Gunther Barth’s “common humanity” thesis, which we take up in “The Nineteenth Century City” course. This thesis refers to how nineteenth century people from very different class, ethnic, racial and national backgrounds find a “common humanity” in urban spaces as they attempt to cope with the pressures of living in such spaces. In his book City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth Century America, Barth points to various things that emerged along with urban life in America to explore this point, among them baseball. In cities like New York, he argues, even if you couldn’t speak English, you could feel like a New Yorker when you learned to cheer for the same team.
The idea here is that although inequities and suffering persist, via spectator sports like baseball, which traces its origins to cities in the second half of the nineteenth century, people participate in a “common humanity” even if it is only for a couple of minutes, or a couple of hours.
I asked my students to think about this concept and the limits of its utility while doing things they enjoy today like watching or playing football or attempting dances like the Nae Nae (I still don’t know how to do that Stanky Leg). The goal was to get them to think about whether this way of adapting allows to see “the nineteenth century city” is still with us (i.e. this way of connecting across our diverse backgrounds even though technology nowadays permits us to do as much even outside of the city. For sure, the Internet and cable television lets people see dances and spectator sports almost anywhere). Chris Edmunds, one of the students in course, created his own video, which addresses Barth’s common humanity thesis with more depth. Check it out below.