At the end of the course, the student will have:
- acquired knowledge of and insight into the expressions and works of the most important American writers, scholars, intellectuals, and artists that shaped 19th century society, politics, and culture and how this impacted past and present perceptions of regional and national identities and notions of race, class, and gender within them
- acquired the ability to critically analyze and interpret 19th-century American literary and cultural products and place them in a cultural-historical, social and political context;
- acquired knowledge of the most important contemporary and current critical interpretations of these products and the ability to link these products and political expressions to current events;
- gained experience in presenting, researching and writing about 19th-century American political, historical, literary, and cultural expressions, applying interdisciplinary approaches and accounting for shifts in understanding from the 19th to the 20th and 21st century.
This research seminar studies identity and cultural diversity in the United States after the American Civil War. Students make connections between past and present throughout the term. Readings and discussions explore social constructions of categories like race, gender and childhood, by exploring topics that range from crime and punishment to leisure. We do this by analyzing sources ranging from letters and autobiography, to works of fiction and Hollywood film. Our analyses help us get a sense of the experiences of different peoples. They include African-Americans and Native-Americans and “strangers” from different shores, like the Chinese and the Irish. The first part of the class focuses on racial and ethnic categories. The second explores identity as it plays out in different literary forms. Cultural diversity is woven throughout. Race, at the center of American life and identity, is also at the heart of the class. The question “What is an American,” and related notions of inclusion and exclusion, steers the course. Students explore the various answers to this classic question in their research paper, where they study a topic of interest and choice.