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Elizabeth Engelhardt, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2006

AMS 385 • Cultural History of the United States to 1865

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
30050 M
9:00 AM-12:00 PM
BUR 228
Thompson

Course Description

This graduate seminar will introduce students to the range of primary literature and scholarly debates relevant to the cultural history of the United States from the colonial period through the Civil War. In addition to our own weekly seminar, students will attend the lectures given in the corresponding undergraduate course, "Main Currents of American Culture to 1865" which explores the theme "America in Crisis." In recent years, we Americans have increasingly defined ourselves in terms of our actions and reactions in particular moments of crisis. Events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina have provoked debates about the substance of our national identity and character and have revealed deep fault lines in the bedrock of our society. 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 Stono Rebellion; the Election of 1824; and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry among others. Our semester will culminate, of course, in the crisis of the Civil War.

In this course, 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 consider many dimensions of American national identity: What is the proper relationship among the nation, the states, and citizens? How have Americans negotiated the tension between republicanism and democracy or between religious and secular world views? What would it mean to recognize slavery as one of the founding institutions of the United States? How have Americans debated and articulated the meanings of, exceptions to, and shortcomings in the American creed? We will study the formation of American identity around differences of race, class, gender, religion, and region. We will study these developing identities through literature, political documents, painting, music, newspapers and other media.

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