AMERICAN STUDIES 301
America, the Frontier, and the New West
Fall 2009, THH 201, MW 10-11:50,
Professor Thomas Gustafson
Office: THH 402C, ext. 0-3747; E-mail: Thomasg@usc.edu
M 2-4, T 12-2, and by appt.
This course has a double purpose: it fulfills Category I of the General Education program, and it counts
as an elective course for the majors and minors associated with the Department of American Studies and
As a Category I course in the GE program, it will examine the foundations of American
civilization in the words and acts of exploration, escape, conquest, revolution, constitution-making,
pioneering, immigration, slavery, and war.
As a course for the majors and minors in ASE, it will
emphasize methods for engaging in interdisciplinary and comparative cultural study.
The course draws
upon various modes of inquiry including literary, historical, and political analysis, and it will compare and
contrast the experiences of diverse groups of people who have composed America and occupied this
The readings, viewings, and listenings for the course, which are mostly drawn from primary sources,
span in time from 1492 to 2008, but they are not presented in strict chronological order.
Instead they are
often grouped together in thematic patterns to reveal continuity and change in the course of American
For instance, readings for a group of three to four classes will be structured to create juxtapositions
between past and present or between a historical event (e.g., Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of America, the
creation of the Constitution, the Gold Rush) and how these events have been reinterpreted in subsequent
eras (such as in the Quincentennial of Columbus’ ‘discovery’ in 1992-93, the Bicentennial of the
Constitution in 1987-89, and the 150th
anniversary of the Gold Rush and California’s statehood in 1999-
Controversy and debate surrounded each of these commemorations, and through a study of primary
works drawn from history, literature, politics, and popular culture, this course will examine not only the
words and actions of famous founders such as Columbus and Jefferson but also the attempts of a wide
variety of activists and dissenters to reconstruct the legacy of these founders in new efforts to pursue a
better understanding of our past and advance the cause of liberty, justice, equality, civil rights, and
The form of critical thinking this course will practice (and seek to develop) is a combination of what I
call “democratic thinking” and “integrative thinking.”
“Democratic thinking” is the effort to study history
and culture by listening to a multiplicity of voices that check and balance (and even contradict) each other
rather than reposing authority in any single voice or mode of representation.
“Integrative thinking” is the