Course Overview

This course will introduce you to the city at your doorstep: you will begin to watch Atlanta and listen to it in ways that enrich your time here and better equip you to make sense of, and perhaps even make long-lasting change in, your adoptive city. We focus on particular places and spaces in the city—from celebrated “Sweet Auburn” Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood neighborhood to the lesser-known mill community of Cabbagetown—and together read the texts of these communities. Such texts include documentary film and visual culture, as well as oral history, music and journalism. The course spans the city’s environs but also its history in order to explore how sustainable community is differently defined and pursued in three different moments: the social movements of the mid-century; the 1996 Olympics (the race and class dramas of which unfolded right under our feet on Tech’s campus); and Atlanta’s contemporary urban “renaissance,” signaled by projects such as the Atlanta BeltLine, a massive redevelopment initiative which aims to connect the culturally and physically separate communities that encircle the city center. Visual culture and public history allow us to think critically about what sustainability means at both cultural and ecological registers, and to place people, communities, and their significant spaces—both those they define and those that define them—at the center of the city’s past and its present. Guided by the instructors, a film scholar and an ethnographer/historian, this interdisciplinary course will engage three main research methodologies: oral history and ethnographic interviewing, documentary film, and built environment studies. The course objectives include diversifying and refining your communication skills through the WOVEN modalities of the Writing Program curriculum; engaging with the city’s past and present as documentarians, scholars, and volunteers, and grappling with the following key questions: How is knowledge about the city produced, and why does that matter?  How do evidence-based texts make arguments [claims to reality] about the city? Finally, what is evidence and how do you use, generate, evaluate, and categorize it?

Sections L6 and L7 are taught by both instructors; the sections meet as one class, and the instructors alternate leading each class meeting. Section E2 is taught only by Yow.

*Image credit: 1928 view of the Sears building (now Ponce City Market) and Ponce de Leon Park (known then as Spiller Field, now a shopping plaza that includes stores such as TJ Maxx and Whole Foods). Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center’s Tumblr.