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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Spring 2006

AMS 355 • Main Currents of American Culture to 1865

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
28605 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
WEL 2.304

Course Description

This interdisciplinary course examines a range of cultural and social transformations in what we now call the United States of America from the colonial period until the end of the Civil War. Each week we will take as our starting point a particular moment of crisis, paying attention to the political, social and cultural forces that gave rise to the crisis as well as the dispersal, transformation and/or entrenchment of these forces in its aftermath. The critical moments we will focus on will include the Salem Witch Trials; the Battle of Concord and Lexington; the Election of 1824; and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry among others. Our semester will culminate, of course, in the crisis of the Civil War.

We will examine the British, (and to a lesser extent the Spanish and French) colonial legacies in the United States and social formations among the diverse groups of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans both within and on the borders of these colonies. We will watch these colonies declare independence, fighting and writing the United States into being. We will explore the attempts of both ordinary and extraordinary Americans as they continued to debate and articulate the meanings of and exceptions to the American creed. In this course, we will consider the political dimensions of American national identity: What is the proper relationship among the nation, the states, and the individual? What is the relationship in America between republicanism and democracy? Between communalistic and individualistic interpretations of America's founding texts? Why did the nation fall apart in 1861? However, we will also look at other factors in the formation of American identity such as race, class, gender, religion, and landscape. We will study these developing identities through literature, political documents, painting, music, newspapers and other media.


Possible Texts Mary Rowlandson, Sovereignty and Goodness of God Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass And a course pack of shorter readings


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