English R1B

Reading and Composition: Out of the One, Many: Ethnicity in American Literature Before Ethnic Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2004 L. von Morze
TuTh 11-12:30 425 Latimer

Other Readings and Media

"Equiano, O: Interesting Narrative

Child, L. M.: Hobomok

Melville, H.: Typee

Cooper, J. F.: The Pioneers

Ridge, J. R.: Joaquin Murieta

Asbury, H.: Gangs of New York

Xeroxed reader "


"1953 marked the first appearance of the word ?ethnicity?; three years later, the U.S. officially abandoned e pluribus unum as its national motto. These minor events were mirrored by a larger scholarly recognition that the history of American society could not continue to be told in the same way, as a tale of progress toward inclusion, or (in turn) of the many merging into one political culture. Our goal in this course will be not only to question the history implied in the phrase e pluribus unum by pointing to persistent exclusions, but to see if we might invert the formula: ""out of one, many."" We will look at a series of (mostly short) texts which represent American ethnicities in a period when no stable concept of ethnicity was available, and when representations of other societies tended to contribute to the imagining of forms of political life, taking writers through and beyond the unifying experiment of the American Constitution. Can ethnic identification--supposedly involuntary or inherited--actually be a model for defining a people and its political will? Has an emphasis on the assimilation of ethnic groups blinded us to the ways the organization of ethnicities may relate to political transformations? How do Anglo-American writers turn to other ethnic groups for models of collective action or of social unity? How do the reports of American explorers, the seafaring of amateur anthropologists, and the rediscovery/invention of ""New"" Worlds and ""primitive"" societies contribute to this project of rethinking politics? How are ethnic idioms represented?

Although students will be required to write several short responses and one long paper on these texts, they will have the option of writing a final research paper on variations of these themes in the twentieth century and beyond. They will be encouraged to shape their project to a discipline of their choosing--whether history, literature, film, sociology, or anthropology--but also to remember that ethnicity is relational and political. While the first premise of this course is that writing about others does not simply reflect one's own ideological assumptions, the second is that writing about one group?s ""experience"" as though it inhabited a vacuum is no less problematic. This final paper will be evaluated according to the strength of research and argument represented in it, as well as by the effort put into draft revisions. "

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