Philip Nel > Courses > American Studies 201: Introduction to American Studies (Spring 1998)
Dr. Philip Nel
425 Benson Hall
Office Hours: TR 1:00-2:30, W 3-4, & by appointment.
Virtual Office Hours: Philip.W.Nel@Vanderbilt.Edu
American Studies 201, Section 2
Wilson Hall 115
MWF 2:10-3:00 PM
American Studies 201: Introduction to American Studies
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. Negotiating Difference (Bedford, 1996).
Douglas, Susan. Where the Girls Are (Times Books, 1995).
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925; Scribner, 1995).
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (1995; Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Naylor, Gloria. Mama Day (1988; Viking, 1989).
O'Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods(1994; Penguin, 1995).
Terkel, Studs. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970; Random House, 1986).
Veblen, Thorstein. Theory of the Leisure Class (1899; Penguin, 1994).
Readings on Reserve, on the Web, and Xeroxes handed out in class.
Films (listed on the Schedule of Assignments).
Course Description and Objectives: This course offers an interdisciplinary investigation into American history, culture, and identity. Our texts will include film, painting, photography, music, fiction, poetry, autobiography, political manifesto, economics, and history. You will be held responsible for all texts -- those read (or viewed, or listened to) during class and outside of it.
Three main ideas motivate this class. First, an interdisciplinary approach -- that is, a method not confined by the traditional boundaries of the disciplines -- better enables us to examine and interpret significant values, events, ideas, and cultural phenomena that have shaped our understanding of American society. No single academic discipline and no single subject matter can fully illuminate these and related issues: by bridging traditional categories of knowing we can more thoroughly comprehend the object(s) of our study.
Second, as a way of raising the question of what it means to be "American," the course investigates the gaps between America as it imagines itself and America as it is. For example, we may live in the "Land of Opportunity," but the power to access opportunities is not distributed equally: throughout American history, social factors like class, race, and gender have played crucial roles in determining who will vote, attend certain schools, work in a certain job, live in a particular place -- in determining the degree to which the American dream becomes possible. Because the tension between American ideals and American realities becomes most visible during historical or cultural crises, we will examine several such moments of conflict.
Finally, aided by James Loewen's important study of American history textbooks, we will ask: what is American history? How has history been told and how should it be told? How do we decide which "facts" to include and which ones to omit? For each unit of the course, but especially for the first ("Land of Opportunity") and last ("Vietnam"), keep these questions in mind.

Reading: Read everything, and come to class prepared to talk about what you have read. Be an active reader: mark your text, underlining important ideas and making notes in the margins.
Class Participation and Attendance: Take responsibility for your education by being an active learner. To encourage this attitude, class participation will count for 11% of your final grade. So, contribute to class discussion to offer an insight, amplify a point, raise a question, explain, and/or disagree. When not speaking, you should remain critically engaged with the discussion or lecture.
Attend every class. If you choose to miss class, please let me know in advance and meet with me immediately after you return. Please note: You cannot earn credit for work missed in class. If you miss class, it is up to you to discover what went on that day. "I didn't know because I wasn't in class" is never an acceptable excuse.
Quizzes: Expect about one quiz per week. Quizzes will address the reading. The lowest quiz grade will be dropped.
Extra Credit: During the semester, I will recommend additional films, performances, lectures, and other events. For each one you attend, write up a 2-page analytical response and hand it in no later than 2 weeks after the event. By "analytical response," I do not mean a mere summary or report of what you've seen; instead, I expect you to critically engage the material in question. Each analytical response can earn you a maximum of 20 points (equivalent to a quiz grade).
Essays: There will be two essays. The first, on "Privilege in America," is due on January 16th. A one-page proposal for the second, "Writing American History," is due on February 25; the essay itself is due on March 27. Detailed descriptions of both are attached.
Final Examination: There will be a cumulative final exam given at the following two times: 3:00 pm on April 30, and 12 noon on April 25. Details will be discussed nearer to the end of the semester.
Night Screenings of Films: I have scheduled films to be shown outside of class, five of which are required: Gold Diggers of 1933, Some Like It Hot, Thelma & Louise, Platoon, and Forrest Gump. All movies will be shown at 7 pm in Garland 220. If you cannot attend the scheduled screening, please notify me ahead of time. You are responsible for viewing the film before we discuss it in class. All films are available on videotape; both Tower and Blockbuster are within easy walking distance of campus.
Conferences: There are no mandatory conferences; but, I encourage you to see me during office hours, especially before an assignment is due.
Email: My email address is Philip.W.Nel@Vanderbilt.Edu, and email can be a great way to reach me. (If you need help establishing an email account and learning to use email, please go to Academic Computing and Information Services in the little round Stevenson building to find out what you have to do.) While I encourage you to contact me via email, please note that I'm not plugged in 24 hours a day: Since I do not have a computer on campus, I tend to check email first thing in the morning, and again in the evening (probably several times).


Paper #1


Paper #2




Class Participation


Final Exam






Schedule of Assignments
(subject to change)
Remember to bring to class the texts under discussion, including any Reserve or Xeroxed material.
ND = Negotiating Difference. [R] = Reading on Reserve. [W] = Reading on World Wide Web. [X] = Xerox (distributed in class).
W 7 Introduction: What Is America?
F 9 Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence (1775), and draft of (ND 174-79); Mary Ann McClintock, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Coffin Wright, "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" (1848), ND 387-90; Workingman's Party of Illinois, "Declaration of Independence" (1876), ND 597-99; Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again" (1938) [R]

M 12 Loewen, Introduction & ch. 1
McIntosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege" [X]
Part I: Land of Opportunity
Introduction: Conspicuous Consumption, Ambiguous Class?
W 14 Loewen, ch. 7; Gregory Mantisos, "Rewards and Opportunities: The Politics and Economics of Class in the U.S." [R]; Philip Levine, "Growth" [R]
F 16 Alger, Carnegie, Bellamy, & Lloyd (ND 426-49, 450-59, 477-500, 501-10)

M 19 Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class(1899): Introductory, chs. 2 & 4
W 21 Veblen: chs. 5, 6, & 7
The Great Depression and a Culture of Affluence
F 23 Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby(1925): 1-102

Su 25 Optional screening of film: Swing Time (1936)
M 26 Fitzgerald: 103-189
W 28 Terkel, Hard Times(1970): 168-92, 129-47, 60-81, 461-62
F 30 Terkel: 13-21, 101-03, 363-82. In-class discussion of music.

Su 1 Screening of film: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
M 2 Discussion of Gold Diggers of 1933
W 4 Terkel: 29-56, 213-34. In-class viewing of photography and art.
F 6 3 poems by e. e. cummings: "POEM, OR BEAUTY HURTS MR. VINAL" (1926), "'next to of course god america i" (1926), "a salesman is an it that stinks Excuse" (1944) [R]

Class in the 1990s
M 9 Robert Reich, George Gilder, Edward Luttwak, Ronald Blackwell, Albert Dunlap, "Does America Still Work?: On the Turbulent Energies of the New Capitalism" (Harper's May 1996) [R]
At "The New York Times on the Web" (, read the following 3 articles: "Congress Adopts Sweeping Changes in Welfare Policy" by Robert Pear (2 Aug. 1996), "From the Senate Debate on Welfare" (2 Aug. 1996), "Clinton Signs Bill to Cut Welfare and Change State Role" by Francis X. Clines (23 Aug. 1996). You have to register to use the Times' web page, but it's free. Once you've registered, write down your password. Next, choose "Search all articles" and under "Search for," type: "Welfare Reform Bill" [W].
Recommended reading: Go to THOMAS ( and read some of the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill (H.R. 3734, Public Law 104-193). Either search the 104th Congress for the "Welfare Reform Bill" or go to and choose "Bill Summary & Status Info." Read the debates for July 31, 1996 ( and August 1, 1996 ( [W].
Part II: American Identities
Introduction to Race: the Veil, Double Consciousness
W 11 DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk(1903): chapter 1 [R]
Countee Cullen, "Incident" (1922); Paul Lawrence Dunbar, "We Wear the Mask" (1899); Claude McKay, "America" (1922); Langston Hughes, "Harlem" and "Theme for English B" (1953) [R]
Images of African-Americans in History, Literature, and Culture
F 13 Loewen, Chapters 5 and 6

M 16 Jefferson, Banneker, Douglas, Langston, et al. (ND 180-192, 208-243, 261-74)
W 18 Gloria Naylor (b. 1950), Mama Day (1988): 1-101
F 20 Naylor: 101-202

M 23 Naylor: 202-312
W 25 Loewen, chapters 11 & 12
Proposal for PAPER #2 DUE
F 27 In-class discussion of music.


Introduction to Gender: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
M 9 Holly Devor, "Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes" [R]
Michael Kimmel, "Clarence, William, Iron Mike… and Us" [R]
Deborah Tannen, "How Male and Female Students Use Language Differently" [R]
Images of Women in History, Literature, and Culture
W 11 Abigail Adams, Letters of 31 March and 7 May, 1776 [X]; John Adams, letter of 14 April, 1776 [X]; Frederick Douglas, et al. (ND 299-301, 305-06, 318-19, 338-40, 392-96)
F 13 Susan Glaspell (1876/82-1948), Trifles (1916) [R]

Su 15 Screening of film: Some Like It Hot (1959)
M 16 Discussion of Some Like It Hot
W 18 Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are (1995): Introduction and chapter 1
F 20 Douglas, chapter 3; Susan Minot (b. 1956), "Lust" (1984) [R]

M 23 Douglas: chapters 7 and 8
In-class discussion of music
W 25 Douglas, chapter 11; Steinem, "Sex, Lies, and Advertising" [R]
F 27 In-class viewing of advertising.

Su 29 Screening of film: Thelma and Louise (1991)
M 30 Discussion of Thelma and Louise
Recommended reading: Douglas, chapter 9
Part III: Vietnam
Introduction and Overview
W 1 Bizzell & Herzberg's Intro. & Ho Chi Minh (ND 795-807); Loewen, chapter 9
Perspectives on Vietnam
F 3 Dodd, Stone, King, Johnson, Nixon, et al. (ND 824-97)

Su 5 Screening of film: Platoon (1986)
M 6 Discussion of Platoon
W 8 Loewen: chapter 8
Recommended reading: Bilton and Sim, Four Hours in My Lai (1992): 92-162 [R]
F 10 Tim O'Brien (b. 1946), In the Lake of the Woods (1994): 1-110.
In-class discussion of music.

Su 12 Screening of film: Forrest Gump (1994)
M 13 Discussion of Forrest Gump
W 15 O'Brien: 111-230
F 17 O'Brien: 230-303

M 20 Conclusion & Review
W 22 Review Session scheduled for 2 pm, Wilson 115.
Sa 25 12:00 noon, Wilson 115: ALTERNATE FINAL EXAM

R 30 3:00 pm, Wilson 115: FINAL EXAM

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Last updated 24 April 1998.