The Right to Write in America

American Studies
AMER2046 & LALS3005
    & LLAW3226
   Spring 2017
   Location: MB103
    Mon. 2:30-5:20 pm

Dr. Kendall Johnson
   kjohnson [@]
   Office Hours:
       By appointment

   Office: Run Run Shaw Tower 5.01
"The government of the Union rests almost entirely on legal fictions. The Union is an ideal nation that exists only in the mind so to speak;
intelligence alone reveals its extent and its limits."

-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Course Description and Primary Texts| Course Requirements | Learning Outcomes | Schedule | American Studies 1050 |
NOTE: Links jump to points further down on this page

In 1776, the idea of self-evidence grounded the philosophical assertion that “all men are created equal.” And yet, political, economic and social equality in the democratic republic of the United States has often proven less of a guarantee and more of a promise. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the “Declaration of Independence,” the recognition of a person as fully human has depended on assumptions regarding race, class and gender. The course examines the changing definition of United States citizenship by putting legal texts (the U.S. Constitution, federal and state laws, Supreme Court decisions) in dialogue with literary writings and film. In this course we will read stories by people whom federal and or state law barred from full citizenship. Through autobiographies, fiction, poetry and speeches, we will examine the cultural legacy of legal terms such as “domestic dependent nation” and “unlawful enemy combatant.” Our goal will be to pay careful attention to the language and genres of the American legislative and judicial system, and conversely to contextualize literature in relation to the legal history through which the U.S. Constitution has been reinterpreted and amended to broaden its terms of equality. We will also consider how different kinds of writing -- legal, scientific, autobiographical and fictional -- employ different rhetorical strategies to reach audiences, affect readers and influence the world.

BOOKS: available in the University Bookstore:
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  1. Attendance and participation in course sessions: Scheduled meeting times will consist of both lectures on and discussions of assigned reading. It is your responsibility to read the material before hand and be able to discussion this material during class. Unexcused absences and being late will affect adversely your final grade.

    Please note that this course includes tutorial sessions that will need to be scheduled. Attendance is required during class meeting times, both the lecture and tutorials.

  2. Posting to the Moodle Group discussion (AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016): Please notice that there is a Moodle Group for this course; you can access it by going to the HKU Portal and logging in. Click on the "My eLearning" tab and it will take you to a page with the link to: Moodle group for AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016

    At points during the semester (approximately every other week), I will assign a short (approximately 200-500 words) response paper that you will post on Moodle. This will enable you to read and respond to other students' interpretations of the course materials. These posting will be part of your grade-- they are an excellent way of participating in the discussions (especially if something occurs to you outside of class, or you don't get a chance to say what you wanted during the course time).

  3. Class Presentation: Throughout the course schedule are "Presentations" (see below) on a Supreme Court decision, piece of legislation, or topic. At some point during the semester, you will work individually or with a partner to prepare a short class presentation (5-10 minutes) in which you provide an overview of your assigned topic. As part of your presentation, please prepare a one-page summary, distribute this summary to members of the class before you speak, and post the summary to Moodle.

  4. Two essays exams as midterm and final: The essays two exams should be 6-8 pages in length. I will provide topics from which you will choose.

    Note: When writing your essays it is important that you acknowledge through proper citation any secondary sources that you use. If you borrow someone else's words or ideas be sure to mention this in the body of the essay or in a footnote. Here is the University definition and policy on plagiarism. In regard to formats for proper academic citation (APA, Chicago, MLA), please consult: Purdue University OWL: Citation Chart


  • Students will be able to convey key concepts and philosophies behind the creation and development of the United States, law, theories of nationalism, and print culture. They will be able to trace in contemporary political events the historical patterns of the national constitution and its development in relation to civil rights, issues of indigenous sovereignty, and protest movements in the United States.

  • The course will foster students' abilities to read closely a variety of media and genres (literature, legal documents, paintings, film) and to connect the form of literature to key cultural and theoretical themes.

  • Demonstrate how consideration of a text's immediate and potential extended audiences are important factors in the interpretation of that text/

  • Exercise skills of interpretation and communication that enable students to think critically, to evaluate arguments and to respond constructively in writing and in speech, and in both formal and informal environments.

  • Establish an awareness of the international context to the foundation and development of US law and literature thus enabling students to evaluate, with historical perspective, contemporary international collaborations and crises.

  • Cultivate the enjoyment of intellectual experience in everyday life and continue to broaden students vision of the dynamic relationship between literature, history, geography, science, and the arts.

January 16:
The Founding Documents of the United States and the Aesthetics of Revolution Recommended Reading:
  • Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1978)
  • Jay Fliegelman, Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, & the Culture of Performance (1993)

John Adams
(HBO, 2008
(Clip 1) | (Clip 2)
January 23
Jefferson, selections from Notes on the State of Virginia -- Queries 5, 6, 11, 14, and 19 (1785, pdf file)

  • David Walker, Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America (1829)

  • introduction of Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave (1845)

    Moodle posting #1:          Moodle group AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016

    Posting #1: Consider the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Choose a news event from the past 100 years that deals with one of these amendments; your news item can be from the United States or anywhere else in the world. In your posting to Moodle, please briefly summarize the event and its relation to a specific amendment. Please include a link to the new article if you can. Your posting should be from 200-300 words.

    Please post before Sunday 22 January at 12 pm (noon) please post a short response at Moodle group AMER2046_LALS3005.

    Recommended Reading:
    Frederick E. Church
    Bayly Art Museum, The Univ. of Virginia
    January 30:
    No class. Happy Chinese New Year

    PART II: CIVIL RIGHTS: Slavery and Fugitive Writing

    WEEK 3:
    February 6:
    Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave (1845)

  • Consider Douglass's reflections on Garrison and the role of "the slave" at Abolitionist events, from "Chapter XXIII: Introduced to the Abolitionists," My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

  • Fugitive Slave Acts (1850, Commager pdf file)

  • Solomon Northrop, Twelve Years a Slave. Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington Ctiy in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana (1853)

    Moodle posting #2:          Moodle group for AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016

    Posting #2: Consider the painting called "The Plantation" (1825)-- there is a link to the right. Interpret this image as a symbol or allegory of slavery in relation to the description of the garden Frederick Douglass offers at the beginning of Chapter Three of Narrative.

    Please post before Sunday 5 February at 12 pm (noon) at Moodle group for AMER2046_LALS3005.

    Anon., oil on wood
    The Met., NYC
    WEEK 4:
    February 13:
    Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

  • "Rising Above: The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection",
    (6:30 lecture at the University Museum; exhibit runs until 26 February 2017)

    Moodle posting #3:          Moodle group for AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016

    Posting #3: Please visit the "Rising Above: Kinsey African American Art & History Collection" at the University Museum. Select an exhibition piece and describe it in a way that relates to the relationship between law and literature.

    Please post before Sunday 12 February at 12 pm (noon) at Moodle group for AMER2046_LALS3005\

  • AMISTAD (1997)
    Steven Spielberg
    WEEK 5:
    February 20:
    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) Moodle posting #4:          Moodle group for AMER2046LALS3005LLAW3226_2016

    Posting #4: Find a conversation or a scene in Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin that deals with an issue related to the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution or a law or judicial ruling of your choosing. (Please cite the novel in your response.) In choosing the scene, you might consider how and why the novel is asking you to think about the rights of citizenship, or federal or state law. Or, you might explain how Stowe is illustrating a crisis regarding the definition of rights.

    Please post before Sunday 19 February at 12 pm (noon) at Moodle group for AMER2046_LALS3005.

    WEEK 6:
    February 27:
    *Classroom MBG07*
    Herman Melville, "Benito Cereno" in The Piazza Tales (109-270) (1856)

  • Greg Grandin, "Obama, Melville and the Tea Party," New York Times (18 January 2014)

  • Presentation 8: Amendments 13, 14 & 15 (1865, 1868, 1870)

  • Bamboozled (2000)
    Spike Lee
    Reading Week:
    March 6:
    No class: Midterm Exam; due March 13 at the beginning of class

    PART III: SOVEREIGNTY: Removal, Allotment, Self-Governance, Self-Determination

    WEEK 7:
    March 13:
    James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans (1826)

  • Presentation 9: Johnson & Graham's Lessee v. McIntosh - 21 U.S. 543 (1823; first decision of the Marshall Trilogy)
  • Presentation 10: The Indian Removal Act (1830) The Library of Congress
  • Presentation 11: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia - 30 U.S. 1 (1831; second decision of the Marshall Trilogy)
  • Presentation 12: Worcester v. Georgia - 31 U.S. 515 (1832; third decision of the Marshall Trilogy)

    Recommended reading:
  • Eric Cheyfitz, "Savage Law: The Plot Against American Indians in Johnson and Graham's Lessee v. M'Intosh and The Pioneers"
  • map

    Michael Mann

    Thomas Cole
    WEEK 8:
    March 20:
    Black Hawk, Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak (1833)

       US Treaty with the Sauk and Foxes, 1804, from C. Kappler

       The Cherokee Memorials

    Williams Apess, "An Indian's Looking Glass for the White Man" and "Eulogy for King Philip"

    First editions:
    Painted by Charles Bird King
    in Thomas McKenney & James Hall's
    History of the Indian Tribes of North America (Philadelphia, 1837-44)
    WEEK 9:
    March 27:
    Zitkala-Sa, American Indian Stories (1921)
    Charles Eastman, From Deep Woods to Civilization (1916)
    WEEK 10
    April 3:
    Charles Eastman, From Deep Woods to Civilization (1916)
    Wounded Knee, 1890

    Poems by Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz, Adrian Louis, Luci Tapahanso (TBA)

    60 Minutes segment on Kennewick Man

    Luci Tapahonso
    "Hills Brothers Coffee"

    PART IV: Resistance to Civil Government or Civil Disobedience

    WEEK 11
    April 10:
    Henry David Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government" or "Civil Disobedience" (1847; 1849; p. 189-213 in Aesthetic Papers pdf)

    Portraits of
    Abraham Lincoln

    April 17:
    No class.
    WEEK 12:
    April 24:
    Legacies of Protest: Nationalism, Sovereignty and Civil Rights

  • Mahatma Gandhi, "Statement in the Great Trial of 1922" (1922) | PDF
  • George Hendrick, "The Influence of Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" on Gandhi's Satyagraha,"(1956)
  • Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (16 April 1863) | PDF
    Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Riverside Church, New York City (April 1867), Audio | The Story Behind "Beyond Vietnam"
  • Siege at Wounded Knee
  • Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, PBS NewsHour, 16 September 2016 | Overview from Wikipedia
  • Final Essay due Tuesday, May 9.