American Conversations Courses
AmCon 101: Declaring Independence: 1607-1865 First Year, Semester I
Spanning more than two centuries, from the founding of the colonies to the Civil War, this course begins the discussion of questions central to the entire sequence: "What is an American?" "What does it mean to be free?" “What kind of place was British America before the Revolution? What did the Declaration declare? What kind of Democracy did the founders practice? Students explore the institutions, images, and stories of Euro-Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans, and they trace how the meaning of those stories and myths changed between the colonial period and today.
Among the topics, dense facts and texts we study in this course are: Literatures of exploration and colonization; the Pocahontas myth in art, literature, and history; the Pilgrim/Thanksgiving myth and the first Anglo-Indian alliance; Puritan religion and life; Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and American individualism; the Tea Party in history and contemporary mythology; the Declaration of Independence as literature and the promise of equality; early American newspapers; Toqueville’s Democracy in America. In addition to these academic pursuits, students also begin working on a series of hands-on civic engagement projects that will span all four courses.
In this century of institutional development, national expansion, and sectional conflict, Americans continued to define a national identity. Students probe the ways in which region, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender inform individual and group contributions to the conversation. They also analyze how geographical expansion and ideas of progress influenced different visions and versions of America. Topics, dense facts and texts include: the Second Great Awakening and the idea of social progress; Abolitionism, William Lloyd Garrison and Fredrick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, American Slave; Utopian societies in America; Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller and American Transcendentalism; Romantic landscape painting; the letters of Civil War soldiers; Civil War photography; Walt Whitman’s poetry of Civil War; Black Elk Speaks; Crazy Horse and the Battle of Little Bighorn.
AmCon 201: Re-making America, 1865-1945Sophomore Year, Semester I
Burgeoning cities and industrialism, an emerging market economy, changing opportunities for women, an influx of immigrants, and the migration of African-Americans to urban centers – all opened questions of freedom of expression, distribution of resources, and American identity. Topics, dense facts, and texts include: the Statue of Liberty and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1876; the Great African-American migration; Chopin’s The Awakening and emerging gender consciousness; the founding of St. Olaf College; Vaudeville; the Model T Ford; the literature of the Harlem Renaissance; jazz; the Scopes “Monkey” Trial.
Students in this course examine technology, the mass market and consumerism, and the increasingly complex relations between identity and material goods. They also explore the images, institutions, and stories of environmental, feminist, and Civil Rights activists in the context of Cold War America and its aftermath. Topics, dense facts and texts include: the creation of the National Park system; World War II and Japanese internment camps; Ansel Adams; Cold War politics and the Beat Generation; Las Vegas and the rise of the sunbelt; Freedom Summer; Woodstock; 2nd-wave Feminism and the poetry of Adrienne Rich; Watergate and the 70s; Reagan and the 80s; the Mall of America and consumerism; the internet.