Casey N. Blake

Casey Nelson Blake is a historian of modern American thought and culture and founder of the Freedom and Citizenship program at Columbia. Professor Blake’s scholarly work has appeared in numerous books and journals.  He writes regularly for magazines and other publications for a general audience and has also helped design museum exhibitions on American history and art.  Among the courses he teaches at Columbia is a lecture course on U.S. intellectual history since 1865, which includes many of the same texts assigned in the Freedom and Citizenship summer seminar.  

Professor Blake’s work as a scholar and educator explores the ideas and artistic traditions available to Americans seeking to create a more vibrant and inclusive democratic society.   The Freedom and Citizenship program invites high school students the opportunity to join in that exploration.  Students study how major thinkers have struggled with the big questions of civic action:  “What are the responsibilities of citizenship?”  “How does individual freedom contribute to the common good?”  “Do civic equality depend on a particular economic system?”  “In what ways has the definition of American democracy changed since the Revolution?”  “Who has participated in making those changes, and how?” Students not only study a conversation that has gone on for centuries about the meaning of freedom and citizenship.  They join it themselves as informed citizens ready to participate in the decisions that will affect their futures, and the future of their country.

Professor Blake's College Courses

  • American Cultural CriticismThis course is an intensive seminar on American cultural criticism since the late 19th century, with particular emphasis on debates over modernist currents in the arts from the 1910s through the 1960s. Readings consist primarily of works by major interpreters of American culture, including John Dewey, Constance Rourke, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Allan Kaprow, Ralph Ellison, Paul Goodman, and Susan Sontag. Each student writes a research paper on a major critic or controversy in 20th century culture

  • The American City Imagined: The city has had a powerful hold on Americans’ imagination as a site of possibility, danger and discovery.  This seminar examines those writers, artists, musicians, urban planners, social critics and activists who since the late nineteenth century have sought to understand and represent urban experience. We follow their imagined and reimagined cities through good times and bad, from the Pacific coast to the Rust Belt and the Great White Way.  Course materials include novels, narrative and documentary films, writings by urban historians and critics, works of public art and architecture, music, dance, and other artifacts of the American urban imagination.