Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
English 250 is designed to introduce students to some of the basic themes underlying American national literary character. As critics like Cathy Davidson and Michael Warner have noted, American national culture has from its inception been a culture of letters, disseminated through pirated novels, black market pamphlets, periodicals, and other literary forms circulating throughout the new nation. Literary texts, as well as film, have been instrumental in institutionalizing themes of American identity with their audiences, thus naturalizing these ideals into American characters.
This course will begin with an examination of basic historical events of American history, paired with some methodological readings of nationalism and mythology. The following nine weeks will take students through five key themes in American culture that can be termed Mythologies of Americana: liberty, piety, entrepreneurialism, individualism, and agrarianism. We will examine a number of texts ranging from the 17th century through the 21st that take up these themes critically and uncritically in a variety of texts, including Rowlandson, Hawthorne, Cooper, Franklin, Ellison, McInerney, Kerouac, and others.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Lecture and group discussion.
Students will be required to read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States within the first two weeks of the quarter, and are strongly encouraged to read this text before the beginning of class if at all possible.
Class assignments and grading
Weekly Responses, Midterm, and a final 8-10 page paper.