Introduction to American Studies
American Studies 201
Fusz Hall 360
Professor: Josh Roiland

Course Description
Welcome to AmSt 201, American Experiences. This course will introduce you to major themes in American culture and thought. The course emphasizes interdisciplinary thinking, close reading, and writing skills by analyzing primary and some secondary sources. The course moves chronologically from Colonial America to present day. We will explore how contrasting images of America emerge from literary and historical texts, visual images and material objects. We will use a range of interpretive techniques to examine aspects of thought, expression, and behavior, placing particular emphasis on the diversity of experiences and conflicting perspectives that are brought together within the United States. Through course assignments, lectures, and discussions, we will have the opportunity to examine, analyze, and develop our own interpretations about these multifaceted and diverse cultural experiences and meanings.

Course Theme
There are many topics that comprise the idea of America. The theme our class will focus on and return to throughout the semester is individualism. Individualism permeates our greatest myths (e.g. the American Dream) and our most horrific acts (e.g. slavery). The paradox of individualism is that it is a great equalizer (“all men are created equal”), but acts as an even greater divider (equality leads to self-interest). The history of America is a history of individuals, big and small, and we will explore how this idea permeates our consciousness through time, space, class, gender and race.

Required Texts
• Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 1997).
• E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (New York: Random House, 2007 reprint).
• William Graebner, Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993).

These texts will be supplemented from time to time with photocopied handouts, website sources, and materials on Electronic Reserve in the library. Password: roiland

Class Requirements & Policies
• Daily attendance (Your final grade will drop by 1/3—e.g., from a B- to a C+—for every absence beginning with your third. Students who accumulate five or more absences will automatically fail the course.)
• Completion of all reading & writing assignments (Late papers drop a full grade each day after due date).
• Four practice assignments (applying in-class knowledge to material objects outside of class).
• Five reading reflections (one page each).
• Research Paper (No late papers accepted).
• Final Test

• Class Participation—20%
• Four Practice Assignments—25% total
• Five Reading Reflections—15% total
• Research Paper—25%
• Final Test—15%

Reading & Writing Schedule

Week 1
Tuesday, August 28:
Introduction, Syllabus

Thursday, August 30:
No Class—Mass of the Holy Spirit

Week 2
Tuesday, September 4:
Henry Nash Smith, “Can American Studies Develop a Method?” (1957)
J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, “What is an American” (1782)

Thursday, September 6:
Alan McKee, “A Beginner’s Guide to Textual Analysis” (2001)
David Walker, from “David Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles” (1829)
Reading Reflection 1 DUE

Week 3
Tuesday, September 11:
Documents of September 11, 2001

Thursday, September 13:
Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence” (1776)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls, New York” (1848)
Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro” (1852)

Week 4 – Individual Meetings
Tuesday, September 18:
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (1837)

Thursday, September 20:
Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America (1840)
Reading Reflection 2 DUE

Week 5
Tuesday, September 25:
Frederick Douglass, from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

Thursday, September 27:
Harriet Jacobs, from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1859)
Reading Reflection 3 DUE

Week 6
Tuesday, October 2:
Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)

Thursday, October 4:
Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)
Reading Reflection 4 DUE

Week 7
Tuesday, October 9:
Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893)

Thursday, October 11:
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (1855)

Tuesday, October 16:
Dred Scott decision (1857)
W.E.B. DuBois, “The Black North” (1903)
Ronald Takaki, from Strangers from a Different Shore (1998)

Thursday, October 18:
Faculty Presentation Day

Week 9
Tuesday, October 23:
No Class—Fall Break

Thursday, October 25:
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975)

Week 10
Tuesday, October 30:
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975)

Thursday, November 1:
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975)
Reading Reflection 5 DUE

Week 11
Tuesday, November 6:
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975)

Thursday, November 8:
Richard Wright, from 12 Million Black Voices (1941)
Paper 1.1 DUE

Week 12
Tuesday, November 13:
William Graebner, Coming of Age in Buffalo (1989)
Gwendolyn Brooks, from A Street in Bronzeville (1945)

Thursday, November 15:
William Graebner, Coming of Age in Buffalo (1989)
Allen Ginsberg, “Howl” (1955)
Paper 1.2 DUE

Week 13 – Individual Meetings
Tuesday, November 20:
Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (1963)
H. Bruce Franklin, “From Realism to Virtual Reality: Images of America’s Wars” (2000)
Joan Didion, “On Morality” (1965)

Thursday, November 22:
No Class—Thanksgiving

Week 14
Tuesday, November 27:
Do the Right Thing (1989)
George Lipsitz, “Popular Culture: This Ain’t No Sideshow” (2000)

Thursday, November 29:
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Paper 1.3 DUE

Week 15
Tuesday, December 4:
Sherman Alexie, “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” (1993)
Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Third and Final Continent” (2000)

Thursday, December 6:
Musical Subculture Presentations
Class Wrap-Up


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