Required Reading: There will be some required reading for the course (5-7 articles or short written “lectures” or other out-of-class work totaling 50-75 pages all together) which will be provided via Learnweb (or links) as the course proceeds.
Recommended Reading: For those who feel the need for additional information on the topics covered in class, you might want to access a good online U.S. history textbook, i.e. at http://www.ushistory.org/us/index.asp
and/or for more culture-based material the standard ESL textbook on the subject:
Neil Campbell and Alasdair Kean. American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture. Edition. Routledge: London and New York, 2016.
After earning my B.A. in English (with a focus on British and American novels) from Washington and Lee University in 1982, I pursued graduate studies in history at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from 1986-1987, then completed my Master's Degree in American Studies at Purdue University in 1994 and my PhD in American History (with minor fields in Ancient History and the History of Science and Technology) in 2004, also at Purdue. In the meantime and since, besides teaching a full range of courses in American History, Government and Culture as well as Western Civilization (including Great Britain and the British Empire), I have also worked at a number of public history venues in the U.S. (including for the National Park Service and five years at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello) as well as authored entries for American History, the History of Science and other reference and classroom volumes.
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 tobe, 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 brought us potentially to the brink of (and in the case of January 6, over) domestic insurrection and dissolution.
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 awhile.
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 needed.
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.