John F. Kasson

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Hamilton Hall, 473, CB #3195
Phone: (919) 962-5004
Fax: (919) 962-1403

University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3195
(919) 962-5004


Ph.D., Yale University, 1971
A.B., Harvard University, 1966


John Kasson is a cultural historian, a field that encompasses a rich variety of materials, both “high” and “low,” as well as disciplines ranging from literature and the visual arts to psychology and anthropology. His research has been persistently concerned with the rich variety of American cultural expression in a dynamic society. Several books have emerged from this work: Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776–1900 (1976); Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (1978);Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (1990); and Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (2001). All of these books are available from Hill & Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Professor Kasson’s current scholarly project continues the investigations of the origins of modern commercial culture and its attendant new structures of feeling. With the working title, “The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America,” he plans to write a book on the intersection of politics and entertainment in the effort to combat the emotional crisis of the Great Depression and to promote a regime of cheer, confidence, and hope.

Professor Kasson has received a number of fellowships and grants to support this research. These include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Humanities Institute at the University of California at Davis, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He has been selected  as a Fellow of the Society of American Historians, an organization devoted to promoting literary distinction and scholarly merit in historical writing (limited to 250 members) and as a Fellow of the New York Academy of History (limited to 150 members).


Professor Kasson has taught History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1971.  All of his courses emphasize interdisciplinary inquiry within a historical context. On numerous occasions he has team-taught with other faculty from American Studies and related departments. Topics have included the Popular arts and American History,, the Broadway Musical, Technology and American History, Childhood in American History, the Body in American Cultural History, and Defining America—an exploration of key defining events and texts in American history and culture. In fall 2011 he is serving as co-director of UNC’s London Honors Program and teaching a course on Food and History: Local and Global London.

Professor Kasson’s graduate advisees have written dissertations and published books on a wide variety of topics, including: the enduring identity of  Southern Primitive Baptists, Nathaniel Parker Willis and New York literary culture in the mid nineteenth century, sensational murders in nineteenth-century Virginia, the emergence of the rights of children and animals, the making of townships in antebellum middle Tennessee, the laboring body in industrial Pittsburgh, sports in the North Carolina Piedmont, the integration of college sports in the twentieth century, rock music and the 1960s, radical gay thought in gay and lesbian newspapers, and the rise and fall of Enron, among others. These scholars have achieved successful careers in research universities, liberal arts colleges, museums, magazine publishing, and other fields.

John Kasson has received a Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship for inspirational undergraduate teaching and held the first Bank of America Honors Professorship.


AMST 334H: Defining America, I—to 1865
AMST 335H: Defining America, II—Since 1865
HIST 179H: Childhood in America
HIST 395: Bodies on Display: Perspectives on the Body in American Culture
HIST 579: Popular Culture and American History
HIST 875: Topics in American Cultural History

John’s History Department Homepage