“Mid-Century; Modern”course overview

Mid-Century; Modern — International Modernism from the Bomb to Sputnik

An interdisciplinary special topics seminar in German and Scandinavian Studies



Professor Barton Byg

Fall 2016 TTh 11:30 – 12:45

University of Massachusetts Amherst


Why do we think of Scandinavian design and California ranch houses when we think of mid century modern? What did the Cold War have to do with the design of buildings and furniture or the promotion of modern art? How did the rise of multinational corporations and the advertising industry shape perceptions of mid century modernity? What was considered normative, and how can studies of the period in Africa, Asia, and Latin America tell us? What role does gender play in challenging dominant historical narratives and methodologies?

The course will use a case study method to consider how the “mid-century” and “modern” labels are applied to a wide range of cultural products: art and design, film and architecture, literature and popular culture

Examples of subjects for study include: the United Nations Building, MoMA and the Mexican muralists, Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition, Hartmut Bitomsky’s film B-52, Todd Haynes’s “1950s” films and their inspirations (e.g. Highsmith and Sirk), mid-century icons such as the Eames chair, international style architecture, or Jackson Pollock and Marilyn Monroe, beat poetry and “cool” jazz.

An early and essential aspect of the course will be attendance at the exhibition and symposium at the UMass Museum of Contemporary Art on the CoBrA art movement and its legacy, especially on September 16, 2016 .

The course is best suited to advanced undergraduate students and graduates; honors credit by arrangement. Inquire also about using the course toward the certificates in film studies or European studies or for the German studies major. Contact Barton Byg with questions: byg@german.umass.edu.