Addendum to "normal" class introduction/description.
- Content - Though the advent of the "Trump Era" and all that entails (from exacerbating racial conflict to the erosion of environmental protections at home and abroad
(i.e. withdrawing from the Paris Climate treaty), to trade conflicts, strategic withdrawal, etc.) has severely eroded U.S. standing in the world, since the U.S. retains
much of its economic, strategic and cultural influence, it is still crucial to try to understand how "we" (both Americans such as myself, and global citizens alike)
got to this place and how the future might look in a post-Trump world.
- Teaching Platform - Since factly the University of Hildesheim, like the rest of the university system in Niedersaxony, will be working/teaching on-line again
this semester to hopefully help prevent a COVID resurgence, this course will not have its usual in-class lecture format, but rather a mix of lecture, discussion and
other work using the Learnweb, BBB and Zoom platforms. More details will follow with the class syllabus, which will be posted in early October.
"Usual" Course Description
For most of its almost 250-year existence as a nation, the United States has seen itself as “exceptional,” a uniquely democratic “beacon of liberty” and refuge for the
world’s “oppressed,” a place to start anew, free of the religious, political and other repressions that supposedly characterized the “Old World” (namely
Europe). Even if that self-image has never entirely matched “reality” -- i.e.,for a long time the national narrative avoided highlighting the hundreds of
thousands of involuntary African slave “immigrants” to the country – many millions did indeed (and still do) head for U.S. shores to achieve the often
elusive “American Dream” of prosperity (or at least economic security earned through hard work and enterprise), individual freedom and self-government.
But America(to use the common U.S. label for the country), has also been, and continues to be, an exception from much of the rest of the world in ways many Americans
would either prefer to ignore or downplay: for example, “our” rates of violent crime and incarceration have long been considerably higher than other countries
in the “developed” world, ditto our religious adherence and patriotic sentiment. And though Americans have long prided themselves on their
(lower-case letters on purpose, meaning governmental types rather than political parties) republican/democratic political system, the increasingly complex,
costly and polarized political process has stalemated problem solving and produced one of the nastiest political “seasons” in the nation’s history (and yes we will spend at least one
class meeting covering the Trump v Biden, etc. contest). Meanwhile, political rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, social welfare spending and rates of taxation in the
United States have remained considerably lower than almost every country in Europe, purposefully so, as the large majority of Americans believe individuals
are responsible for their own destinies (for good or ill), regardless of environment, class, race, ethnicity or gender.
And all of this, of course, has played out against the background of a vast and varied landscape, a once mighty manufacturing sector, and a now century-plus of global
economic leadership, not to mention over a half century of geo-strategic hegemony. Donald Trump might have tarnished the American “brand” for a long
time to come, and China might soon surpass the U.S. as the world’s economic champion, but the U.S. will likely remain an “indispensable” power for quite a
Using a combination of textual and audio-visual (music, film, art, architecture, material culture) sources, lecture and in-class work, this course will explore
these themes and “contradictions” within the socio-cultural, economic, political and other “contexts” of modern America, with periodic “visits” to historical roots where
Note: The focus of this course will be on Anglophone North America (mostly the United States), including occasional forays into the non-English-speaking parts of
Canada and the Caribbean, as well as Hispanophone Mexico and Central America where applicable.