History | J400 2765 Individuals In American History 3:35-5:30 T BH141 Thelen
J400 | 2765 | Thelen D
J400: for history majors only
Above section COAS intensive writing section and also
requires registration in COAS W333
In this course we will explore how individuals have tried to make a
difference in larger events as they have lived their individual lives. How
have individuals experienced and constructed intersections of their intimate
lives with the rhythms of conventional units of historical analysis:
nations, cultures, classes, institutions? How have individuals changed and
been changed by the larger "course of history"?
The topic of our inquiry stems from three assumptions: First, the postmodern
turn in scholarship has led us to interrogate traditions of historical
writing in which individuals were seen more or less as examples of
larger-scale phenomena like Mexican immigration or the Democratic party or
World War II. Instead of assuming that individuals are somehow examples of
genders or classes or cultures or events, we will explore just how they have
(or have not) connected the intimate rhythms of personal experience with
larger-scale ones. How have they constructed their larger worlds as they
lived their everyday lives? Why have they identified with family or class
or nation or humanity? And we will explore how elites and large-scale
units, in truth, have sought to get individuals to identify their personal
experiences and narratives with those leaders have created for institutions,
cultures, and public policies.
Second, the need to explore fresh perspectives for studying history's
traditional concern the study of change and continuity has become more
urgent as the world has become more global. The widening and deepening
movements of peoples, ideas, institutions, and cultures across natural
boundaries have raised basic challenges to traditional units of historical
analysis: that nations are the most natural or important points for people
to identify with and that national states are the most natural and important
means for people to act collectively to shape their fates. History grew up
in the 19th century to encourage people to think in nation-centered terms.
New developments leave us with the opportunity, the necessity, to step back
and inquire just how well nations have and have not met the needs of people.
And this course therefore returns to the starting point, to individuals, to
ask what they expected of collective and public action as they tried to
connect their personal lives to larger phenomena. We will look at what
individuals have expected for the nation and the nation state.
Third, one of the major themes of American life from the most academic or
philosophical "thinkers" to the most market-driven of Hollywood producers
has connected the fate or mission of the United States as a nation with the
empowerment of individuals and the fulfilment of democratic promise. Some
of the most creative American cultural and political theory and practice has
grown up around precisely these issues. In this course we will read and
discuss some examples of this literature much of it recognizable as "cannon"
in American Studies as our sources for exploring how individuals connect
(and refuse to connect) their individual identities and values and
narratives to conflicts over change and continuity in the larger society.
We will concentrate on several writings in each of three periods when
patterns in the larger world created special challenges and forms for
individuals as they related to the larger world. The heart of the course
will be weekly discussions of the readings.