AMS 310 • Intro to American Studies
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
What is an American, this new (wo)man? --Hector St. John de Crevocoeur This class will attempt to come to terms with the question of what we are doing (and why we are doing it) when we do something called American Studies. By considering and problematizing Americanness as a category of analysis, this class will introduce students to some of the methods and contexts of interdisciplinary thought. Historically, American Studies scholars were preoccupied with the effort to discern and define American national identity. More recently, scholars in the field have rejected the idea that such a thing as a unified American character exists. Still, an important thrust of American Studies continues to be a concern with who and what the dominant national narrative includes and excludes. Throughout this interdisciplinary survey, well employ a range of sources to understand the dimensions of what might be called an American creed, which encompasses ideas about democracy and citizenship, freedom and responsibility, individualism and community, egalitarianism and merit. Well look at ways in which Americanism has been used as a tool of oppression and exclusion; as a cover for class, racial, ethnic and religious inequality; and as justification for territorial expansion and imperialism. We shall also discuss ways in which marginalized groupsAfrican Americans and other racial minorities, women, the working class, etc.have used alternative rhetorics of Americanism to justify their demands for inclusion in the system. Some moments and themes we will consider include the politics of European contact with the virgin land of America; the common sense of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence; the peculiar institution of American slavery; the cult of domesticity; manifest destiny and the frontier myth; the incorporation of America in the Gilded Age; immigration and migration; the Depression-inspired search for America; the Cold War battle over un-American activities; and the feminine mystique. We will take into account primary literary, philosophical, artistic, musical, cinematic and journalistic works by writers and artists such as Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Catherine Beecher, Harriet Jacobs, Davy Crockett, Thomas Cole, W.E.B. DuBois, Thomas Hart Benton, Dorthea Lange, Betty Friedan, Richard Rodriguez, Tom Wolfe, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Bruce Springsteen. In addition, we will draw upon important scholarly works by people like Lawrence Levine, Gail Bederman, Ronald Takaki, Alan Trachtenberg, Lisa Lowe, and Karal Ann Marling.
Possible Readings: Primary: Of Plymouth Plantation Mary Rowlandson Letters from an American Farmer Autobiography of Ben Franklin Emerson, Self-Reliance Frederick Douglass Uncle Toms Cabin Frederick Jackson Turner/Significance of the Frontier Narrative in the Life of Davy Crockett Edward Curtis Horatio Alger Dorthea Lange Langston Hughes (poems) Friedan, The Feminine Mystique OR The Status Seekers