AMS 310 • Introduction to American Studies
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
From the onset of European imperialism in North America, to the spectacular industrial growth of the late nineteenth century, and into our postindustrial era, America has never stopped building, both physically and metaphorically. The built environment of Euro-Americans has been continually reinscribed on the landscape, and the ideology of capitalism reiterated in both public and private discourse. Many of these changes become particularly visible in cities, places where people, capital, and culture centralize. This course seeks to deconstruct some dominant landscapes and themes of American experience and put them in dialogue with more marginalized versions of America, starting with the local and moving toward the global. The course also seeks an interdisciplinary balance between fields such as American Studies, History, Geography, English, and Sociology. America is built on disparate and often divisive ideas; the course hopes to reflect the methodological possibilities of using a wide variety of sources and approaches.
We will begin by examining cultures and economies in preindustrial North America, focusing on the rise of mercantilism and the corporation society. We will then analyze how American capitalism and American culture evolved hand in hand, as the ideologies of classical liberalism and the free market took hold, eventually reaching their apogee in the early twentieth century and then declining until the 1970s under the welfare state. Growth has been consistent but uneven as certain groups have prospered more than others. We will try to determine why and how this chasm persisted. Changes in the structure of the US economy had radical implications for US society and culture. Our focus will be on the changing relationship between economy, culture, and landscape, and the various struggles for power, particularly in cities.
Possible Texts Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis Lizbeth Cohen, Making a New Deal Richard Wright, Native Son Tricia Rose, Black Noise