AMERICAN STUDIES 301 MIDTERM Please include a title for the midterm, TA name, and staple Description of assignment: Compose an anthology of thirteen quotations drawn from the materials assigned for the first three sections of this course (Parts I, II and III). The anthology will consist of a preface, short commentaries on each quotation, and a conclusion. The anthology should be governed by a theme (or a set of two topics aligned to the concerns of the first four sections of the syllabus) that offer a way to unite together the diverse materials for this course.
The best anthologies (those that will receive an A or A- grade) will be ones where the theme enables the student to inquire into the complexities of American culture and where both the structure and content of the midterm manifest democratic thinking (i. e. , examining an issue by looking at it from multiple points of view) and integrative thinking (i. e, finding similarities or making syntheses between separate, diverse voices). Texts for the assignment: Draw one quotation from each of the following texts or set of texts.
Present the quotation and cite the text and page number of the quote (if the page number is available). Then provide your analysis of the quotation. Note: You should feel free and encouraged to arrange the quotes and commentaries in whatever order you find most appropriate and compelling. It’s best not to arrange the quotes in the order presented in the list of texts that follows. Compose an arrangement that allows you to create the most interesting and revealing conversation—or dialogue and debate–among the texts. . Carroll, ed. , Letters from a Nation 2. Katz, ed. , Why Freedom Matters 3. Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 4. Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea, chapters 2, 10 or 11 5. O’Hearn, ed. , Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural 6. Essays on Los Angeles by Christopher Isherwood, Sonora McKeller, Wanda Coleman, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Lynell George, or Bill Bradley. 7. Political oratory or writings by John Winthrop, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson or Frederick Douglass 8.
Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: ” or Nathaniel Hawthorne, “A Gray Champion” 9. Black, Our Constitution: The Myth That Binds Us 10. Political oratory by Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr. , Thurgood Marshall, Mario Cuomo, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, or Bernie Sanders. 11. Essays or Speeches by Tony Kushner, James Baldwin, Stanley Crouch or Cornell West 12. Poetry by Pat Mora, Gloria Anzaldua, Ariana Waynes, Beau Sia, Steve Connell, Langston Hughes, or lines from comedy skits and writings by Culture Clash 13.
John Leland, Hip: The History, David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense, or any quotation of your own selection drawn from American music, film, literature, history, politics, including lines from movies or lyrics from a song. Analysis of the texts: Write a commentary on each quotation that is between 3-5 sentences in length. The commentary should be more than a paraphrase of the passage: it should seek to illuminate the significance of the passage and connect the passage to other passages through comparisons and contrasts.
The commentary should develop the theme or governing idea of the anthology as a whole. It is vital in these commentaries to explicate the passage first and foremost from the point of view of its author rather than to offer your personal opinion of it. Consider the commentary an act of empathic listening and of comparative or contextual analysis. Seek to understand the passage in its own context rather than just declaring its personal significance to you. Comment on the language and specific details of the passage and make both comparisons and contrasts to other texts in the anthology.
Preface : Write a 1-2 page Preface to this anthology in which you introduce and explain the orchestrating theme or themes of this anthology—-the topics, concerns, issues, arguments that govern selection of the quotations you use to compose this anthology. The Preface should be similar to a presenting a thesis to a 5-7 page critical essay in Writing 140 or 340. Conclusion: Conclude the anthology with a paragraph in which you briefly explain which text or reading assignment was most important for your education so far.
Select the one text or assigned reading that you feel should definitely be included in the syllabus when I teach this course in a future semester. The task of this anthology (beyond revealing that you have studied the wide range of materials assigned so far for this course) is to find sources of unity in the diversity of the materials. Advice for the Midterm When commenting upon texts for the midterm and when choosing a theme or set of themes to orchestrate your midterm anthology, I recommend that you keep in mind the approaches of Anna Deavere Smith and Michael Kammen to American culture as described below.
Smith believes that words can be “the doorway into the soul of a culture,” and in Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines (2000), she writes, “I set out across America, on a search for American character. My search was specifically to find America in its language. I interview people and communities about the events of our time, in the hope that I will be able to absorb America…. This is a country of many tongues, even if we stick to English. Placing myself in other people’s words, as in placing myself in other people’s shoes, has given me the opportunity to get below the surface—to get ‘real. ” When you comment upon these texts, try to place yourself “in other people’s words” as if placing yourself “in their shoes. ” Listen to what is said and what may be hidden between the lines, and comment upon both. Consider also what might be revealed about a text by comparing and contrasting its words with voices from other texts or by juxtaposing its words against the words of a different text. Compose this anthology, in other words, by “downloading” and “mixing” and “sampling” voices to burn your own CD representing and reflecting upon the “American sound. And just as in Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” your anthology can give us sounds and voices of dissonance as well as harmony. Smith also writes in Talk to Me: “My pursuit of American character is, basically, a pursuit of difference. Character lives in that which is unique. What is unique about America is the extent to which it does, from time to time, pull off being a merged culture. Finding American character is a process of looking at fragments, of looking at the unmerged. One has to do the footwork, one has to move from place to place, one has to stand outside. Your anthology will be composed of a set of 12 quotations, and each quotation can be considered a fragment. When commenting upon each fragment or text, try to relate the fragment to other fragments. Seek out and explain places of merger or agreement among the fragments. But also be willing to see each fragment as unique, as a different take or look or perspective on your theme. The various quotations will come from different places, different times, and along with noting the specific time and place of each quotation, you should note on occasion how the quotations differ or disagree with each other.
The anthology should, in effect, create a conversation and dialogue and debate—or a drama or a jazz performance–among the texts, playing one text off another. Consider each voice a solo or a monologue whose performance you analyze, but let your commentaries and the structure of the anthology as a whole be a jazz orchestra, or a play, or a congress of voices checking and balancing each other. A crucial part of the anthology will be your selection of a theme or themes that will enable you to unite together the different materials for the course.
If you conceive of the anthology as part of an attempt to understand some aspect of the “American character,” you can follow the path of Michael Kammen who advises us to seek out paradoxes and contradictions within American culture. He notes that many have tried to provide a master key to unlock the mystery of the American character, proposing such single explanations as the Puritan sense of mission, the westward movement of the frontier, the desire for opportunity and open land, the effects of immigration, or the story of freedom.
But any “quest for national character, culture, or style,” Kammen cautions, “plunges one into a tangle of complex historical considerations,” and he draws upon the writings of Erik Erikson to remind us, “It is commonplace to state that whatever one may come to consider a truly American trait can be shown to have its equally characteristic opposite. ” There is no simple answer and no one right answer to the question: “What is the American character? You might say that America is a place of “mixed messages” and that it will take some “hard work” to understand the complexity of the struggle for democracy, freedom, justice, equality, and a more perfect union in America. Godfrey Hodgson in his book, More Equal Than Others: American from Nixon to the New Century (2004) gives us an wonderful update on Kammen’s attempt to see Americans as a “people of paradox. ” Hodgson writes, “At the beginning of of the twenty-first century, the United States was a mature civilization marked by striking, well-rooted contradictions.
It is (and the list of pairs by no means exhausts the difficulties facing anyone who attempts a simplistic analysis) generally pacific but occasionally bellicose; religious yet secular; innovative but conservative; tough but tender; aggressive yet reluctant to incur casualties; egalitarian by instinct but stratified in tiers of wide and growing inequality; puritan yet self-indulgent; conformist but full of independent-minded people; devoted to justice, but in many ways remarkably unfair; idealistic yet given to cynicism. (“Nice guys finish last” is almost a national motto. At some times it can be self-confident to the verge of complacency, at others self-doubting to the point of neurosis. ” When choosing a theme for you anthology, I recommend that you search for a topic that allows you to study America by highlighting at least one or two of the contradictions or paradoxes within its “character. ” You can draw upon the list of contradictions/paradoxes/ tensions/conflicts as possible topics of themes for your anthology. Freedom vs. Tyranny Liberty vs. Slavery Equality vs. Hierarchy (or Supremacy) Democracy vs. Monarchy/Aristocracy or Imperialism/Empire Democracy vs.
Racism/Sexism (or the Tyranny of the Majority) Tradition vs. Revolution/Innovation Purity (or virtue) vs. corruption Exclusion vs. Inclusion Culture clash—culture merger Memory (studying the past) vs. Forgetting (letting go, living in the present) Born to Run/Born to be Wild vs. Stability/Civilization/the Home The Founding Fathers Know Best vs. The Sins of the Fathers Democracy vs. Theocracy Church—State Religion—politics Letter of the law—spirit of the law (or a higher law) Unity—-diversity Melting pot—-mosaic Assimilation—roots Majority–Minority Insiders—outsiders (outcasts) More perfect union—individualism
Self-interest vs. fraternity (brotherhood) Care for self vs. Care for others (caritas) Materialism—-spirituality Gold—God Success-failure Happiness—misery Blues–gospel Mobility-fixity Tradition—innovation Conformity—revolt Parents—children () Machismo—feminismo Country—city Civilization—savagery Hope—-fear Privilege—equality Reverence–irreverence Authority—-rebellion Provincialism—cosmopolitanism Country-city Myth vs. history Stories we want to hear vs. stories we need to hear Format: Title Preface 1. Anna Deavere Smith, Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines (2000):
I set our across America, on a search for American character. My search was specifically to find America in its language. I interview people and communities about the events of our time, in the hope that I will be able to absorb America…. This is a country of many tongues, even if we stick to English. Placing myself in other people’s words, as in placing myself in other people’s shoes, has given me the opportunity to get below the surface—to get ‘real. ’ (p. 12) 3-5 sentences of commentary 2. Author, title quotation: xxxxxxxxxxx 3-5 sentences of commentary Conclusion