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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Bruce Burgett
BIS 367
Bothell Campus

Exploring American Culture: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

Examines how contested discourses of racial, ethnic, and national difference have shaped ideas about citizenship and "American" identities. Focuses on the relationship between these discourses and social, economic, and political practices and policies. Stresses diverse interpretive approaches within American Studies.

Class description

How should we approach questions of race, immigration, and ethnicity in the early twenty-first century? What is the status of "racial" identity and discourse today? How do these identities and discourses overlap with categories of "ethnicity?" Is "immigration" an adequate term to describe the movement of peoples in our increasingly globalized world? Why are social benefits, duties, and entitlements distributed through the political concepts of national belonging and citizenship? How do experiences of "nation," "race," and "ethnicity" map onto cultural histories and practices which may or may not be best described as "national," "racial," and/or "ethnic?"

These broad questions will orient our study of "race, immigration, and ethnicity" in this American Studies core course. In order to address them, however, we will narrow our focus by dividing the quarter into three units with two overarching goals: to provide an historical understanding of some of the major patterns within the "American" experience of European and US colonialism and migration; to develop critical vocabularies and research methods that will allow us to raise questions about how that history has been and will be told.

The first unit in the course, "American Savagery," will begin with a play that introduces many of the questions that would come to determine what the terms "America" and "American" would (and could) mean over the next four centuries: William Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611). This section of the course will enable us to isolate several of the clusters of themes that will inform our subsequent readings: colonialism, imperialism, and the process of nation-formation; citizenship, racialization, and violence; language, cultural difference, and translation. It will conclude with a writing assignment in which you will respond creatively to a rewriting of Shakespeare's play by one of his greatest twentieth-century critics: Aime Cesaire's A Tempest (1969).

The second unit in the course, "The Nation and Its Borderlands," will jump forward to the nineteenth century, and will focus on three narratives that assess the costs of nation-making and unmaking: William Apess's A Son of the Forest (1831-36), Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), and the Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer (1927). This section of the course will end with an assignment that asks you to respond, from the perspective of one of the characters in these narratives, to Jose Marti's ground-breaking 1891 critique of US imperialism in the Americas: "Our America."

The final section of the course, "Seattle and the Pacific Rim," will ask you to work collaboratively in groups as we think about and research the local significance of global and national discourses of "race, immigration, and ethnicity" by reading and researching four twentieth-century representions of (im)migration to Seattle and the West Coast: Maria Christina Mena's collected early twentieth-century short stories about Mexico and the Mexican Revolution; Philip Choy, Lorraine Dong, and Marlon Hom's collection of political images and cartoons about nineteenth-century Chinese immigration, The Coming Man; Gail du Brow's study of early twentieth century sites of Japanese community and public culture, Sento at Sixth and Main; and Peter Bacho's recent collection of short stories about Filipino migation, Dark Blue Suit.

Because this course is an American Studies core, we will be approaching all of these texts with the help of the basic methodological and research tools that inform that field: close textual analysis; historically informed interpretation; contextualization of the text within the legal, political, and cultural debates that are contemporary with it in both senses of the term: contemporaneous with the moment of the text's original production and relevant today.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Like all of my courses, I have designed one to emphasize student discussion, participation, and collaboration. Your active participation is crucial to the success of this course.

Recommended preparation

For more information, please email me: burgett@u.washington

Class assignments and grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Bruce Burgett
Date: 10/06/2004