In the past, I taught Intro to American Studies at Cal State Fullerton. The structural requirements of the course are simple: interdisciplinary, focus on four periods/events in U.S. history, reading and writing intensive. My approach involves challenging students to grapple with historical details alongside various theoretical approaches (drawn from essays from Keywords for American Cultural Studies).
For the most recent iteration of this course, the four periods covered were:
- King Philip’s War, with chapters from Jill Lepore’s book of the same name and the Keywords essays on Literature, Domestic, Colonial, and Slavery.
- Slavery and Culture in Antebellum America, with chapters from Ira Berlin, Richard Wightman Fox, and Kenneth Greenberg and the Keywords essays on Africa, Abolition, South, and Property
- Race in Early 20th-Century America, with chapters from Linda Gordon’s The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction and the Keywords essays on White, Immigration, Gender, West, and Family.
- The Political Divide from the 1960s to the 1980s, with Clarence Thomas’ memoir My Grandfather’s Son and the Keywords essays on Class, Identity, and Performance.
Course assignments paralleled this structure.
- For each class section, students read a portion of the reading and responded to a simple question linking the Keywords essays with the historical material.
- For each historical period, students wrote a longer essay in which they drew on a concept(s) from a Keywords essay of their choice in order to analyze the historical material.
- As a final project, students chose a piece of contemporary culture – including songs, music videos, protest movements, political issues, books, television shows, and films – and drew on concepts from various Keywords essays to analyze that aspect of our culture. They first presented their work orally to the entire class and then submitted a refined written version for my evaluation.
From these simple assignments, the students produced increasingly sophisticated work as the semester progressed.Though the learning curve was steep, my students have embraced the task with fantastic results.
I also previously taught California Cultures – an American Studies approach to California history, culture, and society – at Cal State Fullerton. The course was loosely structured around David Wyatt’s Five Fires: Race, Catastrophe, and the Shaping of California along with supplemental articles and book chapters from other scholars.