"American Studies Principles and Methods", Kennesaw State University, Rebecca Hill

Syllabus for American Studies 3700: American Studies Principles and Methods
Institution: Kennesaw State University
Instructor: Rebecca Hill

What is American Studies? And what does it mean to study America? To answer these questions, this reading, writing and discussion based course introduces students to the field of American Studies: the interdisciplinary study of American cultures. The course critically examines the meaning and culture of America locally and globally, using a wide variety of readings and activities from multiple academic disciplines and popular culture


Hi students! Welcome to the first core course in the Comparative American Studies minor. In this course, you’ll learn about the history of the field of American Studies and practice doing some of its most common research methods. The course is organized around three big themes in American Studies scholarship from the past through today: Myths and Symbols of American Culture; Critical cultural history of the United States; and Transnationalism in American Studies. The course concludes with a project that requires you to apply these themes to a local example. You will be reading and writing about many different aspects of American culture using a variety of disciplinary methods and perspectives; from analyzing movies and pop songs, to reviewing archival sources, to interviews and observation. Throughout the course, to give you ideas for how to organize your final project, I’ve assigned several examples of local studies connected to the field’s larger mission under the heading “local studies.” These may be documentary films, podcasts and academic readings. For your final project, you’ll write your own local study about an American place that is important to you.

Learning Objectives – Students in AMST 3700 will:

  • examine various enduring and emerging myths about America and its regions and the impact of those myths on individuals and the larger society;
  • acquire and demonstrate an understanding of American social spaces as sites where shared values are developed, displayed and sometimes highly contested;
  • explore and interpret ways in which race, ethnicity, gender, and social class have shaped American social identities;
  • read and interpret both historical and contemporary American Studies scholarship
  • work collaboratively to develop informed understandings of American history and culture;
  • practice and develop skills for interpreting texts from daily life, the environment, popular culture and material culture in ways that enhance academic analysis.

Course Requirements:

20 % Online Participation: During the class, you’ll have assignments to post on D2L discussion boards, and sometimes to take short quizzes to assess your overall grasp of the course material. Your participation grade is based on your completing these assignments on time, and following the guidelines for the discussion. There will always be at least two discussion post requirements each week: a quick check-in due on Thursday at 6:30 pm, and a response to discussion questions from me due on Mondays at 11:59 pm. There will also be workshop assignments and occasional questions prompting you to give updates on aspects of your “My American Place” project on D2L to help you keep on track. All of these assignments will appear in your weekly modules on D2L. Each week’s D2L posts are worth a total of 7 points. This makes a possible 105 points for the entire semester, building in 5 points of extra credit if you do not miss any posts.

5% Pop Song Project: After each of the four units, you will be posting a link to a video of a popular song that resonates with the reading assignments or discussions from that unit along with a brief explanation of how you see the connection. You will also be discussing and commenting on other students’ video links. See Pop Song Project assignment handout and rubric for more details

20% Name that Myth Paper: (Traditional paper, due 9/21) For this paper, you will write an essay about a common myth or symbol of America as a nation and discuss the myth’s impact on people’s lives. You’ll do some independent research and also draw on the analysis of national myths and symbols in the course readings. See the bottom of this syllabus and individual assignment handouts and rubrics for detailed requirements.

25 % Keyword Presentation with online Q&A (due 10/26): Using a Keyword essay in the book, Keywords for American Cultural Studies, you will do an online presentation using PowerPoint or other accessible presentation software. You must choose a Keyword that is not already on the course syllabus. See the bottom of the syllabus and assignment handouts and rubrics for detailed requirements.

30% Final Project: American Place project ( rough draft due Dec. 7, final draft due Dec 14) For your final paper, you will write about how a single place exemplifies or demonstrates one or more of the themes addressed in course readings during the course of the semester. It should be a place that you know well. For example, it could be the place you live now, a place where you lived in the past, or a place where you work or have worked. The place should be no smaller than a workplace, school, or a neighborhood, and no bigger than a city or county. If you are outside the United States, the place could be one in your country that you associate with American culture (A McDonalds?) or it could be a place that officially represents the U.S. in your own location (such as an embassy, military base, or other state office). In your paper, you will use at least two of the methods you’ve learned about in American Studies (archival research, visual analysis, literary analysis, interviews, participant-observation) to write about your place as a microcosm or example of larger aspects of American culture and history that you read about during the semester. See the assignment description at the end of the syllabus, as well as the assignment handout and rubric.


Burgett and Hendler, Keywords for American Cultural Studies 2nd edition; New York: NYU, 2014

Philip Deloria and Thomas Olson, American Studies: A User’s Guide Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017

David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon New York: Verso, 2019 (2008 edition is also OK)

Feature Films: With the exception of Smoke Signals, which requires a small rental fee, all the other films are free to view online through links provided in your D2L modules.

Sergio de la Torre and Vicki Funari, Maquilapolis: City of Factories, 2005, California Newsreel

Chris Eyre_, Smoke Signals_, Miramax, 1998 (available for rent) on Google Play, Amazon Prime, I-tunes, and Youtube.

Jane Gillooly, Where the Pavement Ends, 2020. America Reframed

Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer_, Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea_ 2004 Truly CA, KQUED

Marlon Riggs_, Ethnic Notions_ California Newsreel, 9987, available through KSU library- Galileo Films on Demand

Paula Sporn, Detroit 42802: Conversations Along a Postal Route, Grito Films, 2018. America Reframed

Paper and Project Assignments:

Name that Myth: due 9/21 1200 –1500 word paper (4 ½ - 6pp double-spaced)

In your paper, you must use two or more current popular culture and /or news sources (advertisement, news article, novel, film, television show, political speech, song) that represent a single cultural theme, symbol, persistent idea, ideological structure, or “myth” of America. You must also use at least two assigned course readings and one additional academic source. In your paper, compare how your chosen myth or symbol appears in the two different forms of media that you chose. Using the academic reading and course readings, explain what the myth is, provide some evidence that people believe in the myth, and argue for why this myth matters. The big question here is: What is the influence of the myth in present-day American culture or views of America?

Please note: The use of the word “myth” often makes people want to write a paper disproving a popular false belief about American culture. While this can be a useful exercise, and you may include some evidence of the myth’s falsehood in your paper, the most important task you need to complete in the paper is not disproving the myth so much as explaining the influence and power of the myth despite the fact that it is false.

Keywords Presentation: 7-9 minute presentation (min. 1000 words of text notes to accompany the visuals if not doing voice-over)

For this assignment, you will create a presentation and post it on D2L and participate in class discussion about your presentation. You may not choose a Keyword that is already on the course syllabus.

In your presentation, you must

1) identify central points of the Keyword essay in the Keywords book

2) define the Keyword in your own words,

3) connect the keyword to two different assigned course readings and

4) finally explain how your keyword can help explain something about your chosen place for the “My American Place” project.

5) include relevant illustrations for the Keywords, Reading, and Place.

You may choose to do your PowerPoint with a voice-over explanation, but this is not required. You can also provide the printed script to go with your power-point slides, placing these in the notes portion of each slide. On the day when the keyword presentations are due, there will be an assignment on D2L to ask questions about other students’ presentations and you will need to answer your classmates’ questions about your presentation. You will also be doing a Keywords workshop before the presentations are due.

American Place Project: 1700-2500 words (7-9 pp double-spaced paper – see below for other formats)

The goal of your final project is to apply concepts learned in class about America as well as American Studies as a field to the study to research a single place that represents America to you. This can be a place inside or outside the United States, depending on your own location. This should be an in-depth, independent research project combining at least two of the research methods discussed and practiced in class. I have chosen some documentary films and readings that focus on individual locations within the US as models of the kind of analysis that I am looking for. This assignment can be done in any of the following formats as long as you use a minimum of 1700 words: a traditional academic paper; a series of blog posts including images; a virtual museum exhibit; a podcast or a short video documentary. For the blog posts, exhibit, podcast, or video documentary, you must include a written script. and a works-cited page just as you would for a formal paper.

In your project, answer the following questions

  • How did your place come to be the way it is now?
  • Who lives (or works) in your place?
  • What are the most important current characteristics or qualities of your place? Why are these characteristics or qualities important for understanding this place?
  • How do people in your place describe themselves and why is this important?
  • What theme or concept we’ve studied in class is relevant to understanding your place (you can use a Keyword, including the same Keyword that you used for your presentation)?
  • What larger national historical and cultural patterns or trends discussed in course materials appear in your place?

Sources and methods requirements and guidelines:

  • Your project must include census data. If it is about a neighborhood or workplace, you should give census data appropriate to the place where it is located
  • Your project must include a minimum of 3 academic sources outside the assigned course readings
  • Your project must include at least two newspaper or other reputable news sources about your place – these should not be tourism or PR sources.
  • Your project must combine at least two research methods practiced in the course (historical research, ethnography, literary analysis, visual culture analysis)
  • You must use at least 2 course readings in your paper as you connect your specific place to themes and concepts discussed in the course.
  • You must cite all sources used in your paper, including interviews, websites, advertisements, videos, etc.
  • Tourism and PR sources can be used, but they should be identified as such and evaluated critically in the context of other more critical or objective sources.
  • If you are using visual culture, film, and /or literary analysis, you may include literary, film, and /or visual sources in your paper. These should be discussed using methods for visual and/or literary analysis as discussed in course materials.

Course Schedule:

Principle One: Americanness

Week one: 8/17-8/24 Myths and Symbols

Read: Syllabus and course introduction under “Start Here”
Keywords: Introduction and “Exceptionalism” (both are online)
Deloria and Olson, Introduction and chapter 4
Shirk, “The Real Marlboro Man,” the Atlantic

View: Start here videos
Power Point – The Myth of the frontier

By Thursday August 22nd 6:30 pm:
Email me to check in
Do the D2L introduction and quick check #1: where are you in the reading? (what page number); ask one question and make one comment about this week’s readings
By Monday August 24th at 11:59 pm: answer discussion questions on D2L

Week Two: 8/24-8/31 From Myth and Symbol to Cultural Studies

Read: Deloria and Olson, chapter 5
Kolodny, “Uses of Captivity
Slotkin, “The Myth of the Frontier in American History”
Keywords: Empire

Watch: Power point on Myth and Symbol School in American studies
And video clips from movies in the captivity genre

By Thursday: quick check post: Where are you in the reading, make a comment, ask a question
By Monday 9/2: answer D2L questions and do Captivity narrative workshop

Week Three: 8/31-9/ 7 Myths and Symbols of the Frontier

Read: Deloria, “I Want to Ride Geronimo’s Cadillac”
Deloria and Olson, chapter 6-7
Keywords: Indian, America

View: movie, Smoke Signals

Participate: By Thursday 9/5: quick check post
By Tuesday 9/8: Library 101 workshop due

Week Four 9/7 – 9/14: Symbols

Read: Trachtenberg, “Two Kingdoms”
Keywords: Technology, Culture
Deloria and Olson, Chapter 8

View: Brooklyn Bridge videos

Listen: Local Studies: “Only One Thing Missing” about the Racine, WI prom (link on D2L)

Participate: Thursday: Quick Check
Monday: answer D2L questions and do Brooklyn Bridge workshop
Pop song post #1

Principle Two: The Critical Study of American History and Culture

Week five: 9/14-9/21: Race and American Hsitory

Roediger, How Race Survived to chapter 2
Lott, “White Like Me’
Keywords: Racialization, White, Performance

View: film: Ethnic Notions
PowerPoint: Historical Review and Background for Roediger

Participate: Thursday Quick Check
Monday 9/21 at midnight: Respond to discussion questions AND
Paper Due: Name That Myth

Week Six: 9/21-9/28: Race and American Literature

Read How Race Survived, chapter 3
Melville, “the Gees”
Karcher, “the Gees”
Keywords: Labor, Literature

Power-point on the History of the Civil War and Reconstruction
Youtube videos on close-reading and satire

Thursday: quick check post
Monday 9/28 at midnight: D2L questions and close reading workshop

Week Seven: 9/28- 10/5 Race and Immigration History

Read: How Race Survived chapters 4-5
Pick your own keyword – one I haven’t already assigned

Watch: Power-point on Race and Immigration History
PowerPoint on How to do PowerPoint Presentations

Listen: Podcast Chris Beam, “Occam’s Razor” from This American Life

Participate: Thursday quick check in
Monday at midnight: D2L Discussion posts

Week Eight: 10/5-10/12 Race and Southern History

Read How Race Survived, chapter 6-end
Local studies: Link, “The New South in Crisis”
Keywords: South
Workshop materials: document workshop

View: Keywords example presentation from Dr. Rebecca

Participate: Thursday quick check, start document workshop assignment
Monday: finish document assignment
Pop Song Post #2

Principle Three: Transnationalism

Week Nine: 10/12-10/19 Theories and Spaces of Transnationalism

Read Shelley Fisher Fishkin “The Crossroads of Culture”
Local Studies: Aguilar, “La onda sonidera en Chicago”
Keywords: Globalization

Watch: PowerPoint on Transnationalism in American Studies (Keyword Presentation model)
Local Studies: Film: Maquiapolis

Participate: Thursday: quick check on D2L
Monday: D2L discussion questions – Keyword Workshop Presentation Part 1

Week Ten: 10/19- 10/26 Transnational Relationships between the U.S., Mexico and El Salvador

Local Studies: Comer, “The Politics of Play”
Martinez, “On the Road: Oaxaca”
Keywords: Community, Border

Watch: PowerPoint On participant observation
Local Studies:
video: https://www.pbs.org/video/only-in-atlanta-buford-highway-pfe4t6/
video: https://dilac.iac.gatech.edu/dilac-projects/latino-commumity-buford-highway

Participate: Thursday quick check: reading check and Keyword Presentation Part 2
Monday Midnight: D2L post including field notes or alternative online exercise

Week Eleven: 10/26 – 11/2 Transnationalism and the Cold War

Read: Molly Antopol, “The Quietest Man”
Nguyen, “War Years” from The Refugees
Lieberman, “It Seemed Like a Very Local Affair”
Kent State Interview for Oral History workshop
Ortiz, “8 Steps”
Keywords: Politics

Listen: (oral history example) Kent State Interview for Oral History project

Participate: Thursday quick check-in
Monday: Oral History questions AND Keyword Presentations Due

Week Twelve 11/2-11/9 – Transnationalism after 9/11

Read: Shamsie, “Your Dead, Our Dead” The Guardian 9/11 stories
Moustafa Bayoumi, excerpt “How Does It Feel to be a Problem?” https://nymag.com/news/features/48931/index2.html
Read OR Listen: Transcript of Wendy Pearlman interview with Chuck Mertz on the radio show “This is Hell”: https://antidotezine.com/2017/07/11/syria-retold/

Listen: Swet Shop Boys T5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4Yb8AWXgLI
Narcy “Phatwa”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtoHCUMpNMY
Listen/or read: Wendy Pearlman interview with Chuck Mertz on the radio show “This is Hell” https://antidotezine.com/2017/07/11/syria-retold/

Participate: Thursday quick check
Monday: D2L response
Pop Song Post 3 is due

Week Thirteen 11/9 -11/16

Read: Deloria and Olson, chapter 9
Keywords: Gender, Class
Local Studies: Trimbur, “Gleason’s Gym”
Local Studies: Hirsch, “Que, pues, con el pinche NAFTA?”

View: Local Studies: Film: Detroit 48202
Link: https://www.amdoc.org/watch/media/968/

Participate: Thursday: Quick Check
Monday: Census Workshop

Week Fourteen: 11/16 -11/23: Cities and Towns – Beyond Boosting

Read: Local Studies: Busch, “Crossing Over”
Keyword: City, Environment

View: Local Studies: Film: Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TjGAWxL23c&feature=youtu.be

Participate: Thursday – quick check
Monday 11/25: drafting workshop
Fall Break 11/23 – 11/29

Week Fifteen: 11/30 – 12/7
Deloria and Olson, 10
Your own reading for your final project
Keywords: America (2nd time)

View: Power point on Interdisciplinary Research and Writing
Local Studies: Film Where the Pavement Ends

Participation: Draft exchange workshop
Thurs Dec. 5 11: 59 pm: Rough Draft of final paper due
Mon Dec 9: Last pop song project post on D2L
Respond to partner’s rough draft

Final Exam Week:

Friday Dec 13: Turn in final paper or project – My American Place