AMS 393 • Intro Readings in American Studies
9:00 AM-12:00 PM
This reading seminar introduces students to the history and current discourses of the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. Arising out of Depression-era concerns about the viability of American identity and experience, and institutionalized as a semi-politicized expression of U.S. cultural nationalism during the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War, the American Studies movement has undergone an extraordinary series of transformations in the past four decades. The seminar will first explore the history of this academic movement by revisiting a few classic texts now often dismissed for their supposed consensus models and claims of American exceptionalism. We will then discuss more recent texts that refocus American Studies around race, gender, class, material culture, popular culture, consumerism, technology, and transnationalism. Finally we will use Janice Radway's still ground-breaking 1998 presidential address to the American Studies Association as an occasion for considering future agendas.
Each week the seminar confronts a single book-length text, analyzing it as a discrete entity, placing it in historiographic, historical, and cultural contexts with the assistance of supplementary articles from American Quarterly, and evaluating its usefulness as an example or model. The course's purpose is not to define American Studies but to survey a series of often conflicting definitions, theories, and methods, and thereby to consider a series of questions and problems that current practitioners might profitably address.
Possible Texts: David Potter, People of Plenty Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad John William Ward, Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age Kenneth Ames, Death in the Dining Room David Nye, Technology as Second Creation Vicki Howard, Brides, Inc. George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness Erika Doss, Elvis Culture Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds