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Thursday—Popular Culture in the Space Age

How did the aerospace industry shape American popular culture, particularly the film industry?

Thursday’s schedule focuses on the impact of the ubiquitous aerospace industry on the popular culture of Southern California, including on Hollywood, as well as the ways the Cold War has been remembered in popular memory.

The day begins with Keirn leading a discussion of several readings that explore the role of the military-industrial complex, the aerospace industry, and scientific experimentation in capturing the minds of Cold War era Americans: Victoria O’Donnell’s “Science Fiction Films and Cold War Anxiety” and selections from Tony Shaw’s Hollywood’s Cold War and J. Hoberman’s An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. Participants will also discuss two readings related to history and memory to consider popular memorialization (and erasure) of Cold War events.

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 historic facility. 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. Only three 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 has a variety of outreach initiatives to the public, with educational programming for elementary through postgraduate-level students.

Participants will make the short drive to the nearby Huntington Library, which hosts the USC-Huntington Aerospace History Project collection. They will eat lunch at the Library’s famed gardens before Peter Westwick provides an introduction to the materials in The Aerospace History Project, part of The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Participants will then have two hours to examine these materials, with Westwick to guide them and answer questions. Resources include the personal papers of several early leaders of Lockheed, historical corporate files from Northrop Grumman, and several thousand previously unpublished photos spanning six decades of American aviation. The Project has over fifty oral histories conducted by professional historians, including interviews with design and manufacturing engineers, shop floor workers, test pilots, and corporate managers from Aerospace Corporation, TRW, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Douglas, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed, North American-Rockwell, Northrop, Aerojet, and the RAND Corporation. In reviewing these materials, teachers will gain insight into the personalities who shaped the industry. They will also be able to select materials to be reproduced electronically.

After returning to CSULB, participants will eat dinner while they engage in a lecture-discussion with Dr. Jon Wiener, who will explore the fascinating and often bizarre ways that Americans, particularly in Southern California, have memorialized sites and events of the Cold War. After the conclusion of the talk, participants will view the classic 1956 film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That evening, participants will post their lesson plans as works-in-progress on MERLOT for sharing out the following day.

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