Welcome to Spring 2018 Semester!




John Singer Sargent "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (1882)


Required Reading -- On Reserve at Oviatt
1-Colin Woodward, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Penguin, 2012)

2-Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of American Communication (Basic Books, 205)

3-Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly: The Making of An American Icon (Oxford, 2005)

4-Judith Halasz, The Bohemian Ethos: Questioning Work and Making a Scene on the Lower East Side (Routledge, 2015)

5-Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City (Harper, 2007)

6-Douglas Coupland, Generation X (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1991)

"Quaker's Dance" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGTOzJuJd-4

John Fessenden, A Sermon Preached to the First Congregational Society in Deefield, Mass. and in the Hearing of Several Indians of both Sexes supposed to be Descendants of Eunice Williams, Daughter of Rev. John Williams, First Minister of Deerfield, August 27, 1837 (Greenfield, Massachusetts: Phelps and Ingersoll, 1837) http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/collection/itempage.jsp?itemid=5731


Additional Reading (Optional Resources on Reserve):
David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed
John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive
Alessandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County
Trent Gillaspie, Judgmental Maps
Douglas Coupland, Life After God (1994)





In spite of the fact that our country is regionally and culturally diverse, we are daily faced with the same mainstream media stereotypes that result in the popular notion of “two sides” or of “Red and Blue.” In this class, we will explore the relationships between actual American cultures and their mainstream media representations, from the colonial era to the present. We have had incredibly revolutionary periods of change in our technical ability to communicate across time and geography. Does the increasingly rapid transmittal of information over longer distances also increase our ability to understand issues or to effectively confront differences of opinion?  To what extent has our amazing technical ability to communicate contributed to our actual understanding of one another or the events that together we have faced as a nation?

In the first part of class we will focus on defining elements of regional cultures, from the colonial era through the Civil War, via significant events and traditions. David Hackett Fischer's "Four Folkways" and Colin Woodard's eleven "American Nations" can be seen in moments of conflict and reform--from the Deerfield (Massachusetts) Massacre of 1704 and Bacon's Virginia Rebellion of 1676 to the antebellum religious fervor of the Shakers, the building of the Railroad, and the violence of Civil War.  Here we see the workings of community vision, the demand for individual opportunity, changing notions of deference and authority, reactions to industrial growth and corporate control of the economy, fundamental ideas about the nature of labor, along with the significant borders built around "the other," or those left entirely outside the protection of the expanding "union." 

From Reconstruction and into the twentieth century, we will look at the development of a mass mediated press, the ways in which it has represented American cultures, and its relationship to regional events and peoples.  How have rural and urban folks and ideas, across the vast regional landscapes that make up the United States, influenced the development of a “national” public opinion? Paul Starr's Creation of the Media provides a rich history of the development of the American "public sphere."  Starr emphasizes an American hunger for information, citing de Tocqueville's early observation that "the American peasant" was "a very civilized man prepared for a time to face life in the forest, plunging into the wildernesses of the New World with his Bible, ax, and newspapers."  In that same “wilderness,” over a hundred years later, Richard Hofstadter found a "common strain" of "attitudes and ideas" that were "anti-intellectual . . . resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it. . .."  Which is most true?  Judith Halasz' Bohemian Ethos and Anthony Harkins' Hillbilly both provide insight into how the frontiers of "American nations," along with stereotypes, have contributed to the national identity found in its mediated twentieth century "public space."  

We will end with two iconic novels—Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, in order to take a closer look at American culture in the late twentieth century.  Do we find new insights and critique of American culture in these novels, or do we find reverberations of a familiar history?  Americans have always faced constantly changing and expanding borders and bounderies.  To what extent has our twentieth century media memory and assumptions adequately reflected the realities forged in such a complicated past, one created in myriad frontiers of diversity?

The work of this class will be cumulative.  In the first paper, students will build a vocabulary for understanding regional cultures and their fundamental values, from colonization to the Civil War.  In the second paper, students will address the development of the American media, from the "penny press" to broadcasting.  In the final paper, and in the Final Exam, students will develop their ideas on the relationship between American cultures and American media based on reading, interviews, and contemporary examples.