Ryan Purcell


Undergraduate Discipline


BS, MA, Rutgers University. MA, PhD, Cornell University. Special interests in US cultural and intellectual history, public history, 20th Century popular music and cinema, and history of the City of New York. Purcell’s work on history and popular culture has been recognized in the Journal of Urban HistoryRethinking HistoryLos Angeles Review of Books, and Hyperallergic. In addition to his academic work, he has served as a consultant on public programs and exhibitions at the New York Historical Society and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. A member of the editorial board at the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York, Purcell is finalizing the Columbia University Press’s publication of his debut book, which explores the queer origins of punk rock in New York City in the 1970s. SLC, 2022–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023


1970s New York City: Politics and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

“New York is the greatest city in the world—and everything is wrong with it.” This headline, which ran in January 1965 in the New York Herald Tribune, speaks to the duality that many people felt regarding New York City during the mid-20th century—a sentiment that continues today: the City can be a lovely place to experience, but it is not without its problems. And by the end of the 1960s, New York was plagued with problems. Population flight to the suburbs, and deindustrialization eviscerated tax revenues. Municipal austerity and privatization policies undercut the public programs. A city that had built a reputation on urban liberalism was now at a crossroads at the dawn of the ’70s. Perhaps most consequential, within this nexus of urban crises, was the City’s image reflected in popular culture that informed opinions of New York and exacerbated the perception of the City’s decline. This seminar explores the politics and culture of New York City during the 1970s. What do representations in popular culture, from cinema to comic books, say about the state of the City in that decade? Did those images match the reality of urban experiences at the time? What political ends did those images serve, and what consequences did they have for the future? Students will learn to outline the resonance of municipal policies, from urban renewal to the militarization of police, as they are reflected in popular culture. Historians will help guide our analysis of politics and culture; but, ultimately, students will interpret primary sources for themselves, developing a deeper understanding of this pivotal decade and how it shaped the future of New York City. In addition to in-class discussions, students will meet weekly with the instructor for individual conferences.


History of White Supremacy

Open, Lecture—Fall

The ideas of John Locke were deeply influential to the development of American politics and society. But while Locke may have helped popularize the concept of representative democracy, serving as a North Star for the framers of the U.S. Constitution, he also authored White Supremacist texts that reaffirmed a body of knowledge known today as “race science,” as well as a series of colonial laws that solidified African-American slavery in the new world that retained their power well after the American Revolution. This lecture traces key currents of race ideology and the belief in White Supremacy within the bedrock of the American political landscape. Through a study of primary source documents, guided by historians, students will be exposed to the ways in which White Supremacist thought has provided an intellectual foundation that has supported a system of white wealth, power, and privilege. Students will explore how racist ideas have shaped critical concepts related to American democracy.


The City on Screen

Open, Lecture—Spring

“The City seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its first promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” This romantic rendering of New York, however, elides that social struggle that pervades its history. Conversely, the City seen on the silver screen can bring its contradictions into sharp focus. From this perspective, New York City appears as a complicated metropolis replete with power dynamics along lines of a race, gender, and sexuality. In this lecture, students will explore the ways in which cinematic representations of New York City that map onto distinct permutations and arcs in the City’s history. Each week, we will locate a specific film within a web of historical meaning. Films like Dog Day Afternoon (1975), for example, reference the rising mass incarceration and the militarization of NYPD units; but the film also gives expression to the emerging LGBTQ movement and transgender subjectivity. Similarly, lesser-known gems, such as Baby Face (1933), can help illustrate the complex social and cultural terrain through which some women achieved power and independence in Depression Era New York.