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First-Year Research Seminar: The Sounds Beneath Your Feet: Downtown Music and Downtown Memory

Semester and Year SP 2019
Course Number FIRST-UG819
Section 001
Instructor Ben Ratliff
Days MW
Time 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


In the book  Here  by the artist Richard McGuire, one undistinguished place—a corner of a living room like the one where McGuire grew up—is pictured through time. The images are juxtaposed across the pages with multiple insets, portraying that same spot in hundreds of moments, as if McGuire were using magic glasses: 1949 (a mother cradles an infant), 1993 (a teenager dances), 1910 (two men fight, with a stick!), 1624 (before there was a house), 10,000 B.C. (before there were any houses: a bison sits in marshland). McGuire’s point, or one of them, is that history doesn’t need monuments—we walk on its layers everywhere and at all times. The musical history of the 20-block radius around NYU has been historicized a lot—particularly the history of the same few places in the late 1970s, and particularly CBGBs. But longstanding New Yorkers look at the whole area with McGuire glasses. It doesn’t matter how many Duane Reades have masked the sites: things happened here. This class will research specific topics in downtown music history, learning how to determine what is reliable in a subject as volatile and often misrepresented as urban nightlife. Our materials will include books; oral histories; newspaper accounts; photographs, flyers and ephemera accessible at NYU’s Fales Collection and other special New York-based collections; and on-the-ground interviewing and research. Aside from readings and writing assignments, we will write about musical events and places that define downtown New York now, and collaborate on class-wide, digital mapping projects. We will also visit the Avery Fisher and Fales collections in Bobst for research exercises.


All Syllabi

Course Type

First-Year Program: Research Seminars (FIRST-UG)