In this class, we will study the significance of borders and of border experiences for, and in, American literature.
In the late 19th century, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner described the Frontier as the meeting point between “civilization” and “wilderness” – a distinction that is seen as highly controversial today. Turner and many historians following him celebrated the Frontier experience as quintessential for the formation of what they referred to as “American character”. Revisionist historians and scholars in American literary and cultural studies as well as writers and filmmakers have challenged Turner’s thesis from many different angles.
First, we will examine how the Frontier experience is reflected in classic American literature and how the Frontier myth has been challenged by e.g. Native American writers. Second, we will discuss the meaning of borders, border protection, and border crossing in literary texts that focus on the US-Mexico and the US-Canada borders. President Donald Trump’s border policy newly illustrates the significance of the US-Mexico border for US society. The reading will include fiction, historiography, cultural theory, gender studies, and visual texts. In preparation for the seminar please watch The Searchers (1956, dir. John Ford; available on youtube).