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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS IN AMERICAN HISTORY (CUL-222114)

Center for Distance Learning Home > Distance Learning Catalog > Communications Humanities and Cultural Studies >

Course Description:


Presumably, students come to college because they believe a higher education and/or a college degree will improve their lives, and thus, in some way, make them "happier." This course encourages students to ponder what happiness means to them (and where a college education fits into the picture) by taking a trip through U.S. history that focuses on various ways that happiness (or well-being, or the "good life") has been constructed in different ways and in different contexts.

Through contextual studies of primary texts of all kinds from the colonial period to the present, students will examine many different ways that happiness has been defined and pursued in different contexts throughout the history of the United States, as well as ways that "America" as a nation has been imagined or defined in terms of concepts of happiness. Emphasis will be placed on students learning to be aware of and think about assumptions about happiness that are explicit or implicit in such texts, and to situate these in their respective historical contexts. In this way, students will be introduced to, and participate in the construction of one kind of narrative of American history. Insofar as this narrative of American history broadens students' understanding of their own historical context, they will be expected, in turn, to more fully articulate their own sense of how they are thinking about their own lives and their own education.

Activities in the course will generally fall into two categories, which are meant to mutually reinforce and stimulate each another. First, students will study, discuss, and write critically about a variety of primary historical documents, in order to understand American history through the lens of "happiness." Second, students will discuss and write about what happiness means to them personally, and articulate particular ways that they envision their college studies addressing that happiness. It is expected that many students will find the latter activities useful to their overall work in educational planning by helping them to consider their reasons for pursuing a degree in relation to some of the ideas about happiness that have been articulated throughout American history.

Note: In addition to the required readings available at the bookstore, all students who take this course are required to use at least one good college-level general American history reference. Examples of such a text include The American Promise: A History of the United States (volumes 1-2) by Roark, Johnson, et al., Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's History (volumes 1-2) by Clark, Hewitt, et al., or A People and a Nation by Norton, et al. For those students who do not already have access to such a text, the Norton text (A People and a Nation: Brief Edition) is optionally available for purchase from the Empire State College bookstore.

CDL matriculated students can use this course as part of their Educational Planning credit.

This course fully meets the General Education requirement in American History.


This online course is offered through the Center for Distance Learning. You can take this as an individual course or as part of an online degree program, with term starts in March, May, September, November and January. View current term offerings and all online courses. Click here to register for online courses.

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Liberal Study
Lower Level
Credits: 4
Meets General Education Requirement In: American History-Full

Term(s) Offered (Subject to Change) : Jan. May. Sep.

For Books and Materials List Go to the Online Bookstore