Feb 05, 2023  
2022-2023 Academic Catalog 
2022-2023 Academic Catalog

MUS 202-02 - Topics in American Music: Country Music

4 credits (Spring)

Country music is often imagined to be an essential, authentic representation of the spirit of rural, white America – “three chords and the truth,” as the songwriter Harlan Howard put it.  

Any phenomenon that seems as tidy as country music is made to seem, that discursively clings so fiercely to its claim to a kind of truth and authenticity, is worthy of careful, critical scrutiny. And that’s the work that we’ll be doing in this class. With close attention to icons ranging from Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X, we’ll consider the different ways that country music is enmeshed in what bell hooks calls  ”white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” whether as a sustaining force for the status quo, a critical tool for artistic insurgency, or something in the middle. By uncovering country music’s surprising histories with respect to race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationalism through our work with historical and contemporary music and scholarship, we’ll seek to better understand how those and other aspects of human identity are woven into the fabric of music-making, and into the fabric of the United States.  This class includes a travel component: a ten-day trip through Missouri and Tennessee during spring break where we’ll visit museums, go to concerts, meet with artists and other industry figures, and even cut our own record on Music Row. 

Students interested in this course will need to complete an application due October 10th in addition to the normal course registration process. The application materials are available on GrinnellShare (Academics>Centers>Center for International Studies>Global Learning Program).

Students selected to participate in the Course-Embedded Travel program will be required to pay a $260 participation fee (most other required travel expenses will be covered). This fee will be added to the student tuition bill and will be due by the first day of classes. The Department of Music is offering course participants who are on financial aid a scholarship for this Spring 2023 course. The course instructor will follow up with accepted students with details on receiving the scholarship. If payment of this fee causes you financial concern, please contact Megan Jones in the Financial Aid Office to discuss loan options to cover this additional cost of attendance.


Prerequisite: Second-year standing.
Instructor: Laver