History | AMERICAN INDIANS, THE FRONTIER, AND THE MYTHIC IMAGINATION
A200 | 9400 | Flavin, F


This course examines the changing ways in which "mainstream" American
society has envisioned the American Indian and interpreted the
significance of the frontier.  The course will argue that there has
been a strong relationship between the historical circumstances of
mainstream American society and the contemporaneous images of "the
Indian" and the frontier.
The course will cover the chronological spectrum from 1492 to the
present.  It will discuss how the Spanish, French, and English adapted
their cosmologies to accommodate American Indians and how each
colonial power tried to define its relationships to Native Americans
and to the new world frontier.  Each European power constructed images
of the frontier and the Indian that frequently reflected the
European's own colonial agenda and circumstance.   The course will
emphasize the period from the American Revolution to the 1890's, the
decade that witnessed the battle of Wounded Knee and the "closing" of
the American frontier.  However, the course will also include several
twentieth-century topics.  The course will analyze such terms as
"noble savage," "vanishing race," "manifest destiny," and
"triumphalism," while discussing how these concepts related to
society's concurrent stresses, fears and ambitions.

A variety of teaching media will be employed to enhance the
pedagogical effectiveness of the course.  Numerous selections from
primary documents will be used to exemplify different attitudes common
among Europeans and white Americans.  The course will rely heavily
upon period artwork because it often depicts important prevailing
sentiments of the era.  The art of George Catlin, John Mix Stanley,
Frederic Remington, and Charles Russell embody different popular
perceptions of the American Indian and the frontier, and the course
will teach students how to interpret these paintings in relation to
the broader historical context.  Film media will also be incorporated
for the same reason.  For example, the course will contrast John Wayne
westerns with social criticism of the late sixties and early
seventies-such as Soldier blue and Little Big Man-to illustrate the
social changes America underwent between the fifties and the early
seventies.

Throughout the course, and especially towards its completion, the fact
that popular interpretations have changed and are still changing will
be used to raise issues about the historical enterprise and to
recognize the value of competing historical "myths."