English R1A

Reading and Composition: On the Road from the Closed to the New Frontier

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
19 Fall 2011 Yoon, Irene
Yoon, Irene
TTh 3:30-5 222 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Potential reading list might include: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Travels with Charley, along with other shorter prose works available in a Course Reader.


The six decades between Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 declaration of the end of the American Frontier and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural commitment to a “New Frontier” of outer space mark a unique period of American mobility and exploration. Without a western frontier to conquer or space exploration fully conceivable, what indeed would a nation Turner characterizes by its continual demand for a wilder field of exercise do? If the dominant fact of American history is movement, where would one go? The development of an interstate highway system, the increasing popularity of automobile ownership, and the growth of a roadside culture over the first decades of the twentieth century suggest one answer: on the road.

In the decades leading up to the rhetoric of a “New Frontier,” many Americans, drawn by its growing accessibility and rapid development, embarked upon the largely recreational exploration of the old one. In this course, we will consider the aftermath of the so-called “first age of American history” through the cultural and historical development of road tripping in the first half of the twentieth century. How did these decades between the closed frontier and the new one change or inform our understanding of American movement and place? How does the experience of cross-country travel inform our understanding of national or regional identities? How did this period of frontierless movement transition into the Cold War space race of the latter half of the twentieth century? And what are its present-day legacies? (The advent of the fast-food chain, roadside billboard advertising, and many of this course’s primary texts are just a few that come to mind!)

But, of course, the central aim of this course is to develop and refine writing skills. We will concentrate on mechanics and style, learning how to read closely, gather evidence, organize claims, and formulate compelling arguments for persuasive essays. A brief diagnostic essay due the first week of class will be followed by regular weekly writing assignments (including reading responses, paper drafts and revisions), culminating in two shorter papers, and one medium-length essay by the end of the semester.

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