Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio

American Cultural History

Dona Brown

HST 351
Spring 1996

Demos, The Unredeemed Captive
Sobel, The World They Made Together
Rowson, Charlotte Temple
Johnson, Shopkeeper's Millennium
Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes
Radway, Janice, Reading the Romance

Axelrod, ed., The Colonial Revival in America
Cott, Bonds of Womanhood
Giffen & Murphy, eds., A Noble and Dignified Stream
Lears, No Place of Grace
Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History

This seminar is designed to offer you a sampling of the current "big issues" and important ideas in cultural history, and to give you a sense of the largest movements and transformations in American culture over the history of the United States. Naturally, we can't pretend to anything like comprehensive coverage. What we can do is to offer a series of questions about culture, and look closely at a few of the most important cultural issues.

Your role in the seminar is to help to create a context for the cultural documents we will assess. Specifically, you will have three assignments.

1) You will form a part of a team to lead the class discussion of documents at key points in the semester. Join a team by consulting your schedule as well as your interest and expertise. (Team A will deal with documents from the 18th century, Team B will deal with documents from the early and mid-19th century, Team C will deal with documents from the late 19th and early 20th century, and Team D will deal with documents from the 20th century.) After your oral presentation, you will take one of the documents you have discussed and write a 5 page analysis of it, providing the historical context needed to interpret it.

2) At another point in the semester (the choices are marked in the schedule below) you will provide extra historical and bibliographical context for a discussion. This will usually take the form of reading one other secondary source on the subject and reporting on it (and of doing enough looking around to get a sense of what has been done in this field-reading a review, for example). For this assignment, too, you will write a 5 page report, summarizing what you have read and placing it in a historiographical context.

3) Finally, at the end of the semester, you will hand in a longer analysis addressing a significant issue in cultural history. This paper, too, will focus on a document of your choice. (Here, as elsewhere, a "document" may be any cultural artifact‹a novel, a sermon, a song, a house, or a painting.) You should consult with me before determining your subject.

The work of the course is designed to be collaborative; you will not be conducting a major research project of your own. Rather, you will be shaping and responding to the discussion of the class with your written work.

Jan. 22: Introduction--what is culture?

Cultures in Contact

Jan. 29: Europeans and Americans
Demos, The Unredeemed Captive
(1. You may volunteer to provide extra context here.)

Feb. 5: Europeans and Africans
Sobel, The World They Made Together
(2. You may volunteer to provide extra context here.)

Feb. 12: Cultural contact documents--Team A

Feb. 19: Presidents' Day --no class

Creating Victorian Culture

Feb. 26: Rowson, Charlotte Temple

March 4: Johnson, Shopkeeper's Millennium ,
(3. You may volunteer to provide extra context here.)

March 11: begin Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin

Spring Break

March 25: Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin,
Victorian Documents--Team B

The Uses of Culture

April 1: The Colonial Revival
Brown, ch. 6; Lears, No Place of Grace, ch. 1; Axelrod, "Another City
Upon a Hill," "The New England, or 'Old Tyme" Kitchen Exhibit at Nineteenth Century Fairs," and "A Pedigree for a New Century: The Colonial Experience in Popular History Novels.

(4. You may volunteer to provide extra context here.)

April 8: Colonial Revival Documents‹Team C
April 15: Tarzan of the Apes

Popular Culture

April 22: Levine, "William Shakespeare and the American People," "Jazz and American Culture," and "Hollywood's Washington" class‹"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

April 29: Radway, Reading the Romance
(5. You may volunteer to provide extra context here.)

Assignment 1: Historiographical Context

Your work here has two purposes: to provide a brief scholarly context for the work we have all read, and to report on another work or works you have consulted. Ideally, these two assignments are really one: the "other" book will provide a context for the common book, and will allow you to think and write about the "big issues" at work.

Perhaps the simplest way to glean information about the general context in which a book was written is to read reviews: these may appear in the Journal of American History, American Quarterly, or perhaps in a more specialized journal (or even the New York Review of Books!). So, one might read a review of Demos' The Unredeemed Captive to find out how it was received by historians, and how it built on the work of previous historians. One might then read a review of Cronon's Changes in the Land to see if they share any established context. Introductions and prefaces also often give clues as to how the author sees the place of the book in the larger scheme of things.

The goal here is to discover the "big issues" in this field today, and to discuss hour your books come down on those "big issues." If environmental history is "in," how has it affected Demos's presentation of the material in The Unredeemed Captive? Or not? You get to tell us what the issues are--you define them, based on your reading in the field. And then you can discuss your book's contributions in that light.

Some books look at similar material, but somehow never confront the same issues. In that case, how does information and perspective gleaned from your outside book illuminate--or contradict--what you have learned in the first book? (How did environment affect the cultural contact between English and Mohawk?) Other books address the same issues, but differently. Do they offer complementary or contrasting views of the issues? (Is it possible to reconcile Isaac's view of the Great Awakening with Sobers?) Then your job will be simple--to illuminate that distinction and to make intellectual and social sense of it. (Why does Johnson ignore gender? Why does Cott ignore class?)

You have a wide range of choices as to how you define the subject of this 5 page paper, but minimally, it should consider both books and provide an intellectual context for them. Except for those brave souls who have volunteered during the first two weeks, papers are due the week after we discuss your book. I will Xerox them and distribute them to the class: there is an audience for your thoughts!

Assignment #2: Dealing with Documents

This five-page paper will address a specific primary source--a primary source you have helped to choose and present to class for discussion. Two weeks before the class date, you will meet with me to decide on the documents. The documents will be given out at the class before they are scheduled for discussion. You will have a special responsibility to hold forth thoughtfully and meaningfully on your documents.

Unlike Assignment #1, your goal here is not to range widely, but to dig deeply. Here you will engage in close analysis of a document: what can we find out about the culture that created this artifact? (Why Ought Victorians have found Uncle Tom appealing?) Class discussion and reading will provide some historical context for your document, but you are responsible for making it make sense in your own way. I will not assume that you must do outside research in order to make sense of your document, but if you find yourself on unfamiliar ground, some outside reading may be appropriate. (Here is a Charles Finney sermon, but who was Charles Finney?) On the other hand, the purpose of this paper is not to do research: it is to look closely and minutely at a real-life cultural phenomenons making use of all our airy discussions--ideology, material base, cultural contact, reader response theory--to illuminate a single document and moment. These papers will be primarily for me to read.

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's graduate portfolio for the course History 351. Created 24 March 1997.