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Toward a Global America: Identity and Difference in the American “Melting Pot”

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 14, 2014 - July 25, 20142M-F 9A-11:50AOpenMichael Litwack10668

Course Description

America has been described as a melting pot and a nation of immigrants, but what does it mean to be an “American” and to claim an “American” identity? This course will introduce students to the study of personal and group identity in U.S. literature and culture. Crossing multiple genres, historical periods, and cultural forms (fiction, film, TV), we will examine a diverse range of texts by African American, Arab American, Asian American, Chicano/Latino, Jewish American, European American, and Native American writers. We will ask how ethnic and immigrant authors have come to understand the United States, and how members of minority groups have used literary and cultural expression to represent their own experiences and the experiences of their communities in the U.S.

We will compare various representations of U.S. ethnic communities in mainstream public culture to those offered by minority literatures, and survey how categories such as nationality, ethnicity, and gender impact the production and reception of literary texts. Situating the U.S. in a global context, we will read a range of authors, from James Baldwin and J.D. Salinger to Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, whose texts raise questions about the relationship between literature, culture, and the making of American identities. We will look at how “America” itself has been depicted in print and other media, while exploring literature's role in the construction and representation of national, group, and personal identities. Through close readings, we will consider themes and theories of nationalism and globalization, border-crossing and hybridity, individualism and multiculturalism, community and belonging.

This course is designed to expose students to the diversity of American literature while developing interpretative skills for the close reading and written analysis of texts. By the end of this course, students will be familiar with major concepts in literary and cultural studies such as globalization, democracy, diaspora, narrative and representation. Through an emphasis on intercultural literacy, critical thinking, and writing techniques necessary for effective citizenship, this course will prepare students for a wide array of college-level humanities classes.

There are no prerequisites for this course other than a desire to learn more about the U.S. as a society whose identity is rooted in diversity. Students should be seeking to reflect on how their own personal experiences, identities, and attitudes have been shaped by cultural and literary representations of people from different backgrounds.