Rural Dreams: Surveying the Plight and Promise of America’s Small Towns [CBL]

While rural areas currently account for less than a fifth of America’s population, small towns have played an outsized role in the  nation’s history, political economy, and understanding of itself, even as they have faced existential challenges for much of the past century.   In this course, we will closely examine the histories, present circumstances, and potential futures of rural America. As a class, we will debate whether small towns need or deserve special protections in a world that is rapidly urbanizing. We will explore the types of economic initiatives and leadership models that could help reinvigorate rural communities. Students will also consider what we can do about the rural poverty, environmental problems, and outward migration of talented young people that we encounter with disconcerting regularity.  

To fully explore these questions, we will consider the role that agriculture, energy development, local institutions, regional power structures, demographic patterns, government policies, and globalized economic practices have on small towns. To guide this exploration, we will examine a variety of literary, philosophical, historical, scientific, and public policy-related texts. There will be a special emphasis within the course upon learning about Canton and its surrounding communities. We will work together to place local challenges and opportunities within a national context and to identify past and current visions that have shaped the life of this particular place. To fulfill this goal, students will be asked to participate in Community-Based Learning (CBL) placements for 20 hours during the semester, engage in local archival research, and listen to the stories of our neighbors in New York’s North Country.  [CBL]