Teaching Stories: Featured Fall 2016 Course Offerings, Part I

Being an interdisciplinary department, American Studies has a history of offering fascinating courses about American culture, politics, and history that you cannot find anywhere else on campus. Today, we feature four of those courses taught by our stellar Ph.D. students, to be offered in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, about fascinating and timely topics like conservative politics in America, public education, energy and oil, and the image of the American Indian. We’ll feature more of our courses over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Each of these courses is a lower division course and will fulfill your writing flag requirements.

AMS 311s: The Culture of the Right

Unique # 30555
Instructor: Carrie Andersen
MWF 11am – 12pm

The moniker “conservative” can apply at once to fiction authors like Ayn Rand, political theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville, Renaissance men like Henry David Thoreau, television writers like the creators of South Park, and preachers like Jerry Falwell. How? What does it mean to be conservative? How has that definition transformed over time? And how are those ideologies expressed, reimagined, and critiqued in not only political texts and speeches, but also a variety of different cultural forms, from film to television shows to music to videogames?

In this class, we will explore those cultural forms to understand the changing politics of the Right in America from the 19th century through the 2016 election cycle, emphasizing in particular the relationship between the history of the Right and current events in culture and politics. In tracking the historical development of the Right, we will also attend to the interplay between conservative ideology and race, gender, sexuality, class, and religion.

This course will draw upon a variety of primary source texts (including films, television shows, fictional stories, essays, videogames, and music) as well as secondary source analyses of those cultural works.

Finally, a key question will subtly guide many of our discussions, readings, and assignments: how did we get from Thomas Jefferson to Donald Trump?

Oil Well -- Bradford Oil fields, oil metropolis of the world (69693)

AMS 311s: Cultures of American Energy

Unique # 30560
Instructor: Emily Roehl
MWF 12pm – 1pm

Sources of energy are all around us—deep underground, blowing in the wind, stored in muscle and bone, mined and refined. The way we work, move, eat, and play is deeply connected to the histories and cultures of these energy sources. For this reason, energy is an important topic not only to engineers and economists but to humanities scholars as well. In this course, we will consider the histories and cultures of energy in North America from the mid-19th century to the present. We will dig into the question of energy by focusing on four themes: energy frontiers past and present, energy disasters fast and slow; energy in cultural memory; and energy media. We will look at representations of various energy sources (fossil fuels, human and animal power, wood, water, and wind) in film, television, literature, art, photography, museums displays, and industry archives while considering the role of energy in our everyday lives.

Integrated classroom at Anacostia High School

AMS 311s: Imagining Public Education

Unique # 30565
Instructor: Caroline Pinkston
MWF 1pm – 2pm

The last sixty years have been a remarkable and tumultuous period for American public education. From the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools to the more recent controversies over charter schools and high-stakes testing, public education has spent much of the last half-century right in the middle of national debates about equality, justice, and democracy. A recurring narrative in these debates is that our public schools are failing, and that fixing them is crucial to solving other longstanding issues of poverty and racial injustice.

Where does this narrative come from?  What stories and images contribute to the way we understand the importance of public schooling and its apparent failures? What’s at stake when we imagine a “failing” public school – or, for that matter, a successful one?

This course will examine contesting representations of public school in American culture from the 1960’s to the present day.  This will not be a course in the history of American education. Our main purpose, instead, will be to investigate cultural perceptions of the state of public education, in pop culture, in the news, and beyond. What’s the relationship between the stories we tell about public education, the policy that determines what happens in schools, and broader cultural anxieties about race, childhood, and social justice? We will consider sources including film and television, policy briefs & journalism, nonfiction texts & memoir, children’s literature & school curriculum.

Potential texts (excerpts): Up the Down Staircase (Kaufman, 1964); Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (Kozol, 1990); Bad Boys: Public Schools and the Making of Black Masculinity (Ferguson, 2000); Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America (Tough; 2009)

Potential films (excerpts): The Breakfast Club (1985), Dangerous Minds (1995); Freedom Writers (2007); Waiting for Superman: How We Can Save America’s Failing Schools (2010)

American Indian stamp 14c 1922 issue

AMS 311s: The Mythic Indian in American Culture

Unique # 30570
Instructor: Eddie Whitewolf
MWF 9am – 10am

American culture is replete with images of the “Indian.” From the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to professional sports team mascots, and from the packaging on Land ‘o’ Lakes butter to Walt Disney animated feature films, the “Indian” remains a pervasive yet enigmatic figure, but also, in the words of Vine Deloria, “unreal and ahistorical.” This course will interrogate the image of the mythic Indian in American popular culture, as seen through a variety of media, including American history, world’s fairs and expositions, public museum exhibits, literature, and film.

5 Questions with AMS Afficilate Faculty Member Dr. Jim Cox

Today we are pleased to bring back a favorite feature here at AMS::ATX—-5 Questions! Today’s interview introduces you to Dr. James H. Cox, AMS affiliate faculty member in English and author of the forthcoming book, The Red Land to the South: American Indian Writers and Indigenous Mexico.

What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

My most recent project was on American Indian writers who traveled to Mexico and wrote about it and its indigenous population. This was an exciting project because I was thinking about comparative indigeneities, about the way indigeneity is experienced in the United States and Mexico, and how it’s experienced when people are crossing the border as well. I enjoyed it because I was writing about a time period in American Indian writing that has been largely neglected by literature scholars, and overlooked by historians, too. This period falls between the progressive and civil rights eras – it looks like an empty four decades, but the period is actually full of manuscripts and published works that only a few people have studied in depth. The genre diversity within the project is fun as well – I worked with detective novels, worked with plays, which I had never done before, and nonfiction. I was going outside of the more conventional literary genres, reading biographies and memoirs and histories by Native authors.

Additionally, I’ve just started a new project that I’m really stoked about. One of the writers in the American Indians in Mexico project is Lynn Riggs, a Cherokee dramatist who published between 15-20 plays, a book of cowboy songs, and a book of poetry during his life. He wrote about 10 other plays that went unproduced and unpublished. In 1931, he also made an experimental film with a director named James Hughes and with guidance from several fairly well known cinematographers from Hollywood, including Henwar Rodakiewicz. It is a 15 minute film of a day in Santa Fe. When the film was complete, he showed it first to the literary crowd–Alice Corbin Henderson, Spud Johnson–in Santa Fe at that time. It’s a silent movie, and he interspersed it with a poem of his called “Santo Domingo Corn Dance.” There are two dominant images in the film. One is of a huge cross outside a church in Santa Fe, and then there’s a dance by local indigenous people. So I’m going to Santa Fe and the New Mexico historical archives. In particular, I want to know who the dancers are. If the dance in the film is actually the corn dance, then Riggs violated a prohibition against filming it. I suspect it wasn’t, but, if so, I’d like to know how and why Riggs staged it the way he did for the film. I’m also interested in his multicultural conception of Santa Fe at the time: there are Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Anglos, interspersed throughout the entire film; and I’m interested in the images too of the cross and the corn dance and how he’s playing with both of them to convey a sense of the religious identity of this place.

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