English 31AC

Literature of American Cultures: The Wild, Wild West-- California and the Politics of Possibility

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2022 Saha, Poulomi
TuTh 2-3:30 Physics Building 3


The Golden State – fast fame, endless sunshine, and gold in the ground. California has long occupied an iconic place in the American and global imagination as the land of limitless opportunity, utopian pinnacle of the promise getting ahead, making it big, and living large. This course takes up the question California as a site of political possibility. We will take up the fraught relationship between dreams of economic prosperity and neocolonial violence that underpin a popular cultural fascination with the state and the idea of the “wild west” more generally. From Spanish missions and Anglo settler colonialism to the Gold Rush and Chinese Exclusion, we will begin with the conflicted origins of racial diversity, before moving on to a variety of political formations that emerged in the 20th century: Free Love counterculture, the IOAT occupation of Alcatraz, the Free Speech Movement, the development of Ethnic Studies, agricultural workers movements, anti-immigrant violence, Reaganism, and other radical imaginations.

This course, which satisfies the American Cultures requirement, engages a range of historical, sociological, and theoretical material to understand how ethnic and racial categories have been formed and produced in America. Students will develop a critical vocabulary for race, gender, and class in contemporary America and an understanding of their historical antecedents. This course will require you to demonstrate skill in researching, planning and writing papers, incorporating an analytical understanding of key concepts in the course, and the capacity to engage scholarly debates in the field of Ethnic American literature.

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