Alice L Pedersen
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
The ideal of the road in U.S. culture - from slaves escaping to the north, to “Go West, young man!", to Kerouac’s mad desire to “burn, burn, burn" -- the road has long symbolized tantalizing possibilities for escape, freedom, and the running down of that elusive dream.
Or has it? What is this dream of the road, and how – mechanically – does it work? How have different forms of transportation emerged in national history, and to what effects? In this class, we will track transportation as a way to explore the construction of a national identity alongside the construction of transportation lines and thoroughfares. Our collection of texts is broad, and indeed roams quite liberally through US history, but our goal across these texts is to understand how literary representations of transportation in the U.S. contribute to questions of equality, expansionism, freedom, community, and national identity.
Alongside the literary texts, we will also read contemporary Seattle for the same questions. Students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in current debates on bikes, light rail and the Metro bus, and car and highway taxes. Students should be prepared to think critically about their own relationship to transportation and to put these experiences into conversation with the literature we read. Hence, the guiding question for the class is not only "how does the history of US literature represent transportation issues," but also "how are these same issues represented in contemporary debates?" Our focus on Seattle’s current events will help us to ground some of our more theoretical literary conversations in the high-stakes debates of our own moment.
Texts (available at University Bookstore) Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, ISBN 978-0-312-44203-3 Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, ISBN 978-0-312-44266-8 Cormac McCarthy, The Road, ISBN 978-0307387899 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
Contemporary resources will include newspapers The Stranger, The Seattle Times, The Daily, and lectures by local activists and transportation professionals. Students will also have the opportunity to attend local lectures, meetings, and town halls, in order to actively join the conversation.
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General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading