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

Spring 2004

AMS 310 • Intro to American Studies

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
26155 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM

Course Description

“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, we’ll 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. We’ll 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 groups—African 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 Tom’s 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


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