Thursday, September 2
Write a letter in which you try to explain Americans and life in America to people who have just arrived to live in this country. In other words, try to help them understand who we are by identifying some of the characteristic behaviors and beliefs that define us. Insofar as possible, try also to explain why you think we are the way we are.
Because this is a letter, it can be written in an informal style. The letters will be shared with other members of the class at our next session. Be sure to e-mail your letter to "lknoles" before our next meeting. Also remember to bring your e-mail disk and a copy of your letter on disk with you to class.
Make a quick list of images, events, habits, and phrases that you regard as typically American. As an aid to your thinking, you will find an assortment of Letters to New Americans written by your colleagues in the course posted on our web site.After you have completed your list, compare it to the list offered by a Canadian observer at his web-site: http://ted.educ.sfu.ca/people/staff/jmd/americanisms.html. Are his views of Americans the same as yours or different?
Discussion of letters and James Atlas's "The Art of Failing" (to be read in class). Tour of course web resources, and discussion of commonplace books
Web Treasure Hunt: Use the course web-site to find several texts or images that tell us something about how earlier Americans thought about our national identity. There are several routes you might want to explore.
Starting at our Search Engines Page , you can find a link to the Making of America site at the University of Michigan where you can do an advanced search for works containing the word American in the title. Select one or two articles or books that sound interesting, and see what you can deduce about the American identity by looking at them.
Alternatively, you might want to use the Search Engines Page as a gateway to art sites, so that you can think about whether artists have anything to tell us about what it means to be an American.
At the Resources for the Study of 19th Century American Literature at the Lyceum page, you will find a collection of sites and documents related to American culture.Select one to visit, and see what vision it offers of the American identity. On that page youll even find a link to a site called Women in America that allows you to read the observations of women who visited the U.S. early in our history. (Its always interesting to get an outsiders view.)
If you visit the course page that offers Resources Arranged by Topic, you will be able to find materials on subjects that reflect different aspects of American life. Why not visit some of the sites listed under Progess and Technology, for example? One thing you will be able to find there is a fascinating group of web sites dedicated to Americas expositions.
Wealth, Culture, and Equality as Themes in Writing from the Colonial and Early National Periods
Tuesday, September 7
Readings: Winthrop: "A Model of Christian Charity," 107-110 and 116 ff; Anne Bradstreet, "Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House," 143, and "To My Dear Children," 144 (both poem and letter that follows).
On-line Resources: The Puritan Tradition and American Memory, and The Mayflower Web Pages. For a sample of the mood of Puritan thought, you might want to
Reflection Questions: What vision of society is Winthrop trying to communicate in "A Model of Christian Charity?" What reasons might have led Winthrop to choose that particular model; what hopes and fears might he reasonably have harbored about the future life of the Puritan community once they arrived in America? (You might want to read the farewell letter written to the Puritans who voyaged to America by the Mayflower, written by their pastor.)
What does Anne Bradstreet's writing add to your understanding of the Puritan way of looking at life? If you have the opportunity, visit the "Fire and Ice" site dedicated to the writing of the Puritans and think about which of the passages selected as a "Quote of the Day" might most have appealed to Anne Bradstreet.
Thursday, September 9
Crevecoeur, "Letters from an American Farmer," no. 3, p. 293; Jefferson, "Letter to John Adams," 338; Paine, "Common Sense," 309. Reflection Question: In a sense, both Winthrop and Crevecoeur expect America to serve as a "shining citie on a hill," but do they agree or disagree about what kind of model it should provide to the world? If these men were alive today, would they believe that American life had fulfilled their expectations? Specifically, what in particular do you think they would find pleasing, displeasing, or just surprising?
Online Resources: letter written in 1737 by Cleemens Studenbecker and Peder Studenbecker, immigrants to Pennsylvania, describing life in America; essay written by Gottleib Mittleberger on the Misfortune of Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania in 1754.
Tuesday, September 14
Franklin, excerpts from the Autobiography, 223. Reflection Questions: Does Franklin's vision of American have more in common with Winthrop's or Crevecoeur's ideals? Also, Franklin's Autobiography proved to be particularly popular in the nineteenth century. What qualities or ideas do you believe might have made him attractive to Americans in an industrial and entrepreneurial age? (Here is a hint: Franklin's name and face were often used on the covers of magazines and newspapers published for young men in the nineteenth century. What do you make of this magazine cover?)
On-Line Workshop: Visit the Speakeasy Cafe and join a table to exchange ideas about Franklin's Autobiography. For a list of the discussion questions, see Franklin at the Lyceum.
Online Resources: The World of Benjamin Franklin ; Benjamin Franklin: An Enlightened American; The Will of Benjamin Franklin; The Way to Wealth; Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. For a brief description of Franklin's life and work and links to a few on-line texts by Franklin (including "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania") go University of Pennsylvania University Archives & Records Center.
Thursday, September 16
Assessment of Speakeasy project. Discussion of Franklin continued.
Questions of Success in Nineteenth Century
Tuesday, September 21
Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," 587, and "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," 623. In a glance back to the seventeenth century, read also the excerpt from Bradford on pages 102-105. Reflection Question: What advice does "Kinsman" seem to offer about how best to get ahead in America, and is this consistent with the advice offered by any earlier authors? Think also about the role "misrule" plays in these two stories. Does misrule have the same purpose in the two stories? What do these two stories suggest about whether misrule is a good or bad thing in American life?
To help you visualize what you are reading, here's a picture of some present-day mummers:
Online Resources: As background for "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," you may find it interesting to look at Gouverneur Morris' Letter to Thomas Penn, May 20 1774 describing class conflicts. If you want to find out more about the "Lord of Misrule" (who seems to appear in both "My Kinsman" and "The Maypole of Merrymount," see THE ORIGINS AND TRADITIONS OF MAYDAY. For a wealth of information related to Hawthorne and his writing, see the Nathaniel Hawthorne Web. Among the resources you can find there are links to early reviews of Hawthorne's work, including one written by Herman Melville. In "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Melville wrote:
And now, my countrymen, as an excellent author, of your own flesh and blood,--an unimitating, and perhaps, in his way, an inimitable man--whom better can I commend to you, in the first place, than Nathaniel Hawthorne. He is one of the new, and far better generation of your writer. The smell of your beeches and hemlocks is upon him; your own broad prairies are in his soul; and if you travel away inland into his deep and noble nature, you will hear the far roar of his Niagara. Give not over to future generations the glad duty of acknowledging him for what he is. Take that joy to yourself, in your own generation; and so shall he feel those grateful impulses in him, that may possibly prompt him to the full flower of some still greater achievement in your eyes. And by confessing him, you thereby confess others, you brace the whole brotherhood. For genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.
Why does Melville claim Hawthorne as a truly American author, and why does that issue matter to Melville?
Thursday, September 23
Conduct Book Web Workshop--In preparation for this class, peruse one or more of the resources available on our course web-page dedicated to Conduct Books and Advice Manuals in America. Come to class prepared to discuss what kinds of topics were traditionally covered in such works, and what kinds of advice you encountered in your reading.
In-class Speakeasy Discussion: Sit down at a table at the Speakeasy Cafe and share your thoughts about 19th century conduct books. Afterwards, we'll have a class discussion and let each group report on its advice on advice books.
Tuesday, September 28
Brief follow-up on conduct book discussion, including comments on Catherine Beecher's Treatise on Domestic Economy.
Thoreau: "Economy," 868; "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," 910; "Conclusion," 959.
In Walden Thoreau offers his own vision of the "good life" as an alternative to more conventional notions of success. As you read, identify the elements of life in America that Thoreau was criticizing in his writing. Does he agree or disagree with the notions offered by those who were writing conduct manuals in the same period? What explains their similarities or differences?
On-line resources: see The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau Main Page,
The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau Life and Times of HDT
CyberSaunter - Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau at the Lyceum.
Thursday, September 30
"Advice for Young Americans" Project Due.
Workshop on creating web exhibits.
In-Class Discussion: Looking backwards and forwards.
Twentieth Century American Writers and Questions of Success
Tuesday, October 5
Read Tocqueville's "Why Americans Are So Restless in the Midst of their Prosperity," (see packet.)
In-class workshop: Visit the Speakeasy Cafe and collaborate with the people at your table to plan a chapter of a commonplace book devoted to one of the following specific topics: material advancement, social advancement, moral or spiritual advancement, educational advancement, and differences between the old world and the new. You are also free to agree with the others at your table to revise the topic or exchange it for one of your own choosing.
Your goal is to select quotations related to your topic that reflect the viewpoints of the authors we have read up to this point. (Be sure to include Tocqueville, if appropriate.) You may also include quotations from any other American authors with whom you are familiar. In addition to proposing quotations, you should also comment about the significance of the passages you have selected.
NOTE: You do not have to complete this project during the class period. We will continue to work on this project over the course of the semester. However, by the end of your time at the cafe your group should be prepared to propose a number of quotations for inclusion in your chapter of our collaborative commonplace book.
Thursday, October 7
Cather, "Neighbor Rossicky," 1830; Fitzgerald, "Babylon Revisited," 2141.
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