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Thursday—Popular Culture in the Space Age

How did the aerospace industry shape American life and popular culture?

The day begins with Keirn leading a discussion of the second half of Blue Sky Metropolis, which sets the stage for the day’s field trip. Participants will then travel to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. They will receive a two-­‐hour behind-­‐the-­‐scenes guided tour of this legendary facility by JPL’s resident historian, Erik M. Conway. JPL represents a public-­private partnership in aerospace that has outlasted the Cold War. Beginning before World War II, JPL partnered with the military to develop aircraft and aerospace technology. After the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, the US government turned to JPL for a response. JPL and the military collaborated in the rapid development of a four-­‐stage rocket. Three short months after Sputnik, Explorer 1 became the first U.S. satellite. Thus began the “space race” with the Soviet Union that culminated with the US moon landing. JPL will provide a customized tour that highlights the Cold War history of the facility, as well as more recent ventures. The summer scholars from 2014 raved about this fantastic behind-­‐the-­‐scenes look at the facility that has developed rockets and satellites, and monitored the launch of the Mars rovers.

After lunch in the JPL quad, participants will return to Long Beach. Westwick will provide a lecture-­‐discussion entitled “The Southern California Aerospace Industry and the Cold War,” providing a chronological historical analysis of the question posed in Blue Sky Metropolis: what shape did aerospace development in Southern California take in the Cold War era, and what were its consequences for the region, as well as the broader implications for the nation as a whole? He will highlight the structural features of this development in terms of regional and national politics, economy and finance, and industrial leadership and technological breakthroughs.

Dr. Eileen Luhr will then lead participants in an examination of the image and reality of suburbia, a prominent element of Cold War Sunbelt perceptions. Scholars will explore the reality of archetypal massive suburban complexes, as well as the myths and cultural “expectations created by this housing form. First, Luhr will lead a discussion of readings on housing patterns in Southern California as a prelude to her formal presentation. The first reading is Eric Avila’s exploration of the role of race in LA-­‐area housing patterns in the postwar period. Becky Nicolaides considers World War II and early Cold War blue-­‐collar work in an LA suburb in “The Suburban Good Life Arrives,” while Shana Bernstein’s discussion of interethnic coalitions that formed in Southern California in the postwar period to protest violations of equal housing laws. Luhr will then present a lecture-­‐discussion entitled “Cold War Suburbia: Race, Class and Gender in Southern California Housing” that broadens Avila’s argument to include considerations of class and the roles of women in Southern California housing patterns. She will emphasize the role of culture in shaping expectations about suburban lifestyle, focusingparticularly on the Cold War context and the influence of local aerospace industry on these patterns.

The evening will conclude with a screening of The Right Stuff, a film about the birth and development of the aerospace industry at Edwards Air Force Base in the Southern California desert. Adapted from Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same name, the film won four Academy Awards, received four other nominations, and was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The film provides an opportunity for scholars to consider the way that the aerospace industry has been presented by another regional industry, Hollywood. Westwick will introduce the film and hold a brief discussion afterward, as teachers think about broader questions of the role of commercial film in classroom instruction.

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