Spring 2008 This course is designed to provide American Studies juniors (and others) with a methodological grounding in the discipline, and an opportunity to write a research paper on a topic of their own choosing. We will engage a wide range of materials and methodologies in this course in order to grasp the broad interdisciplinarity of the field of American Studies. Through short written exercises students will gauge the utility of various methodological approaches to determine which are most useful for their own independent work. All students must complete the first four short writing assignments. Each student must also select and do two of the remaining writing exercises.
The major requirement of this course is a research paper, approximately 20-25 pages in length, that will be due at the end of the semester. This course is designed to structure the process of independent research and writing. All students will be required to discuss their topic with the instructor, to submit a prospectus and preliminary bibliography, and to write a rough draft of their paper well in advance of the final due date. Individual conferences on these drafts will be scheduled between April 14st and 29th. Students will also be required to make formal presentations of their work in progress.
Available at Amherst Books
Martha Hodes, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century (NY: W.W. Norton, 2006)
Theresa Strouth Gaul, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005)
D.J. Waldie, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005)
Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror (New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 1998)
Martha A. Sandweiss, Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel (New York: Mariner Books, 2006)
Edward Linenthal, The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
There is also a Course Reader available at Collective Copies. Readings from this source are marked (R) in the syllabus.
Summary of Research Project Schedule February 18th to March 4th Individual project conferences
March 7th Prospectus
April 11th Full first draft
April 14th to 29th Individual draft conferences
April 30th and May 7th In class project presentation
May 12th Research paper done!
Syllabus January 30th Introduction: Investigating Place: Nineteenth-Century Amherst
Meet in classroom. We will then go together to the Jones Library. In class workshop: Many different kinds of visual and literary records – including maps, prints, photographs, personal letters, business records, published books, newspapers and periodicals – afford a glimpse of the past. We will give each student two different sorts of objects or records from nineteenth-century Amherst and ask them to discover what can be learned from each. Students will then work in small groups to see what larger stories the combination of different bits of evidence produces.
February 6th Life Stories
Meet at Webster Computer classroom Readings:
Karen Sánchez-Eppler, “Copying and Conversion: An 1824 Friendship Album ‘from a Chinese Youth,’” American Quarterly 2007 59(2):301-339. (R)
Martha A. Sandweiss, excerpt from Passing Strange (R)
Martha Hodes, “Fractions and Fictions in the United States Census of 1890,” (R)
In class workshop: After a brief introduction to a variety of on-line search tools, students will begin researching the life of an ordinary person.
Assignment 1: Following the structured research steps we will provide, you are to write a brief biography (4-5 pages) of an ordinary American, drawing on at least three of the research tools introduced in the workshop. This is an assignment that stresses research, but it also requires narration. Your goal is to conjure a life out of the facts you have managed to collect, while always remaining careful to distinguish between knowledge and speculation. Biographies are due posted on-line Monday February 11th.
February 13th Biography and Micro-history
Jill Lepore, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” Journal of American History 2001 88(1): 129-144 (R)
Martha Hodes, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century (2006)
Read your classmates’ biographies and prepare for class discussion by making a
list of at least two larger stories that inform these individual life narratives.
In class workshop: Introduction to the online resources that will allow you to build a specialized bibliography for your project.
Assignment 2: Create a bibliography of at least 20 entries including both books and articles that would help you turn your biography into a micro-history dueMonday February 18th
February 20th Contemporary Census Data
Meet in classroom, move to Lane Room, Frost Library
D.J. Waldie, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (2005)
Joan Didion, “Trouble in Lakewood,” The New Yorker July 26 1993, pp. 46-50, 52-60, 62-65 (R)
In class workshop: An introduction to the on-line and in-print United States Census data from 1980-2000.
Assignment 3: The challenge of turning your own memories or experiences into a micro-history can be considerably harder than using an historical figure to examine broader historical themes. Drawing on data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 census reports, write a 2-3 page paper that places your own family’s experience within the broader trends of the communities in which they’ve lived. You may focus on yourself, your immediate family or a relative. Where does the experience of your family seem to resonate with larger cultural trends? Where does it seem to diverge? To the end of your paper, append a one-page reflection on what sort of data you would need to acquire in order to use your family’s experience to illuminate a larger theme in American history. What theme would that be? What information could help you develop that argument?
Theresa Strouth Gaul, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839 (2005)
Emily Honey “The Girls of 83 Round Hill Road: Boarding Houses and the Culture of Consumption at Smith College, 1892-1895" (Handout)
In class workshop: We will look at the College’s collection of letters, scrap books, diaries etc. from Amherst students as well as college newspapers, course catalogs, histories, club minutes and other materials towards preparing an annotated transcript of one letter or other brief manuscript text. This workshop will also show you how to use the Five College archive and manuscript finding aids for all kinds of collections including family and personal papers.
Assignment 4: Transcribe and annotate a letter or other brief manuscript text from the Amherst Archives. The Text Encoding Initiative provides far more detailed information on the complexities of attempting to represent the qualities of manuscript material in print than is at all necessary for this project, but their guidelines will make you aware of the kinds of manuscript characteristics you might want to pay attention to, as well as how to tag them. This is the scholarly standard in the transcription field. http://www.tei-c.org/release/doc/tei-p4-doc/html/PH.html.
The description of editing and annotation practices that Robert Root prepared for a Michigan public history project offer far more user friendly and helpful guidelines for this assignment. http://www.chsbs.cmich.edu/Robert_Root/Guide/Intro.htm
Annotated Transcriptions are due Monday March 3rd.
For the rest of the semester assignments will be related to each student’s specific project. We will continue to have weekly research-skill activities in class and related assignments, but each of you will only need to do two of the remaining assignments, picking ones that are most useful methodologically for your particular project and doing it in a way that can be incorporated into your research.
March 5th Periodical Sources
Meet at Frost Library,Archives and Special Collections Readings:
David Paul Nord, “A Republican Literature: Magazine Readers and Reading in Late-Eighteenth-Century New York” in Reading in America: Literature and Social History (1989), 114-139 (R)
David Henkin, “Print in Public, Public in Print: The Rise of the Daily Paper” in City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York (1998), 101-135 (R)
Joshua Brown, Beyond the lines : pictorial reporting, everyday life, and the crisis of Gilded Age America (2002), 1-57, 233-43 (R)
Whitman Archives section on Whitman’s poetry published in periodicals http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/periodical/index.html Workshop: working with actual periodicals and on online periodical databases
Assignment 5 (optional): How could you use a periodical to help you think about issues in your project? Periodicals are a great source of information, in part because each specific piece is surrounded by an abundance of diverse cultural materials. Write a 3-5 page paper that either centers on the way one or two periodicals cover your topic, or that looks at one or two periodicals from the time and place of your project and reflects on things you find there that provide an illuminating context for your concerns. You may focus on the literary content of the periodicals, the illustrations and advertisements, or a combination of all three. If you are working on a literary topic you could use periodicals to look at reviews and advertisements for your text and/or its serial publication. In every case make sure that you pay attention to such characteristics as audience, layout, and advertising. Due date: Monday, March 10.
Prospectus for your final project due Friday, March 7
Before drafting your prospectus you should make an appointment to meet with us to discuss possible projects. You can work on any American topic that is of strong interest to you, but you will need in your work to draw on at least three different sorts of research tools. Reviewing this syllabus and the assignments outlined here may help you to think about the kind of research activities you would like to do this semester. Students taking this course for credit as English 95 will need to pick a topic that is literary in scope. Your prospectus should include a 2-3 page discussion of the problem you intend to explore, the questions or issues you will raise, and what sorts of evidence you intend to use. Please attach a preliminary bibliography.
March 12 Prints and Photographs
Meet at Frost Library, Archives and Special Collections
Readings: Marni Sandweiss, Print the Legend (2002)
Mary Niall Mitchell “Introduction: Portrait of Isaac and Rosa” Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery, (2008)1-13 (R)
Lorie Novak, “Collected Visions,” in Marianne Hirsch ed., Familial Gaze (1999), pp. 14-31 (R)
Explore http://cvisions.nyu.edu/index.html and http://memory.loc.gov
Workshop: working with engravings, lithographs, and photographs
Assignment 6 (optional): How can you develop an historical argument from a visual image? Working with a group of original images from Special Collections (or with a selection of your own devising), write a 3-5 page paper that argues for how this group of images conveys a story or a point of view without recourse to, or in association with, more literary descriptions of the same events. You should give particular attention to content and to context, thinking hard about how original audiences might have encountered these pictures. Due Monday, March 31st.
Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, 1-88, appendix 1 and appendix 2
Workshop: Prof. Dizard will demonstrate the use of statistical software designed for the analysis of social survey (“public opinion”) data, as well as aggregate data from state and national data bases. If you are intending to use survey or demographic data, please submit the kinds of data you are interested in and Dizard will try to incorporate data relevant to your projects into the days workshop.
Assignment 7 (optional) : If you are conducting a survey as part of your project this assignment would be a good opportunity to experiment with various ways of presenting and analyzing that data. You should discuss your particular survey with Prof. Dizard to discern the best models to experiment with here, turn in tables or graphs presenting your data and a 1-2 page reflection on the process and the particular strengths and weaknesses you see in this data and its analysis for your particular project. For those of you not conducting your own surveys, there are many publicly available databases that may be of use for your research. We and Professor Dizard will help you locate databases relevant to your particular project. Experiment with various ways of presenting and analyzing this data, and turn in the resulting tables and graphs together with 1-2 pages of reflection on the process and the particular strengths and weaknesses you see in this data set and its analysis for your particular project. Due Monday March 31st.
View streaming video of Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror.
April 2 Oral history
Meet in classroom
Janet Malcolm, “The Morality of Journalism” New York Review of Books (March 1, 1990) 37(3). Accessible online at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/3724 (R)
Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (read play and view video)
Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in America Life, 89 - 207
Oral History Guidelines from the Oral History Association available at http://alpha.dickinson.edu/organizations/oha/pub_eg.html
Assignment 8 (optional): For this brief oral history project interview someone whom you think would be a useful source for your particular project. We will hone possible interview questions and approaches during our class on oral history. After your interview, review the tape and type out no more than one page of material that strikes you as particularly illuminating. Then write another 1-2 pages that discusses how these passages are useful for your project and reflects on your interview and selection process. In light of our class readings what do you see as the utility and limitations of oral history material and this particular interview as a source for this specific project? Due Monday April 7th.
April 9 Legal cases and government documents
Meet in Webster computer classroom
Robert Ferguson, “John Brown: Defendant on the Loose”in The Trial in American Life (2007)117-152 (R)
Jean Pfaelzer, “Introduction” and selections from “The Chinese Rewrite the Letter of the Law,’ Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (2007) xv-xxiv and 198-209 and 237-251 (R)
Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) (R)
Lawrence v. Texas (2003) (R)
Kendall Thomas, “Corpus Juris (Hetero)sexualis: Doctrine, Discourse, and Desire in Bowers v. Hardwick” in GLQ 1 (1993):33-51 (R)
Workshop: researching legal cases
Assignment 9 (optional): Online legal data bases offer a way to look not just at the development of case law, but at a wide range of broader social problems and points of conflict. You can explore the effects of a particular historical event, track shifting problems in family relations, consider the shifting meanings of race or gender, analyze changes in attitudes towards such things as marriage or divorce. Using the tools we studied in class, write a 3-5 page paper that makes use of legal cases to examine a particular issue in American social life. You might focus on a close analysis of one case, or use several cases to track shifting opinions or points of view. Due Monday April 14th. A rough draft of your essay is due Friday April 11th. We will schedule individual meetings to review your drafts between April 14th and 29th.
April 16 Fiction
Meet in classroom
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel (2006)
In class workshop: literary style and form as tools for social analysis
Assignment 10 (optional): Literary texts can offer evidence for efforts to understand a particular time, place, or problem, because of content certainly, but even more powerfully through the ways in which formal features express that content: not just the “what” but the “how”. Pick a literary text that seems to you relevant to your project. Write a 3 page essay that describes a particular stylistic feature of this work and then suggests some of the ways that this formal feature illuminates an issue you are addressing in your project. Due Monday April 21.
April 23 Public memory, public spaces
Meet in classroom
Edward Linenthal, The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (2001)
Workshop: Interpreting monuments and museums as sites of memory