American Studies,
Foundations I:

Origins of the Nation

  Fall 2017
   Tues, 10:30 am - 12:20 pm
   Friday 11:30 am-12:20 pm


  Prof. Kendall JOHNSON

     Office Hours: Tuesday afternoons, TBA
     and by appointment

     Office: B0504 Run Run Shaw Tower (SMLC)

Webpage address:

Course Description and Primary Texts| Course Requirements | Learning Outcomes | Schedule | Electronic (PDF) Files |

NOTE: Links jump to points further down on this page

This is the first of three Foundation courses in American Studies (including AMER2050 and AMER3050). It focuses on the historical period beginning with Columbus's voyage and concluding with the Civil War. Our goal will be to develop a definition and understanding of American Culture by reading, viewing and discussing documents and images that are central to the theory and reality of the United States as a nation. Texts will include political and legal documents, novels, poems, an autobiography, a slave narrative, speeches, visual art and contemporary films. We will consider the ways in which the story of the United States has changed over time as we look for consistent ideas in what it means to be American. We will identify the authors' various claims of American distinctiveness and evaluate these claims in relation to the legacies of slavery and Manifest Destiny in an international context. As we study the past, we will see how important it is to understanding the present and enrich our skills of interpreting contemporary literature, film and current political events. The course will also introduce theories of nationalism and print culture that students will find extremely useful in other courses and in interpreting the world today.

BOOKS: available in the University Bookstore, on, or as PDF files (links are below, in the Course Schedule):



  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 discuss this material during class. Un-excused absences and being late will affect adversely your final grade.

  2. Posting to the Moodle Group discussion: 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 AMER1050_1A_2017.

    At points during the semester (approximately every other week), I will assign a short (approximately 300-500 words) response paper to a group of you. You will post your response on Moodle. Another group of you will then log on to Moodle and respond to a post. This will enable you to read and respond to other students' interpretations of the course materials.

    These postings 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. Midterm and Final exam: These two cumulative exams will consist of short answer responses and a take-home essay.

    Note: When writing your short essays it is important for you to 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, theories of nationalism, and print culture. They will be able to trace in contemporary political events, the historical patterns of national constitution and development.

  • The course will foster students' abilities to read closely a variety of media and genres (literature, legal documents, paintings, films) 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 American Culture 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' visions of the dynamic relationship between literature, history, geography, science, and the arts.

Quote sheets: |Thomas Harriot| Quote Pack 1| Quote Pack 2| Quote Pack 3| Quote Pack 4|

Sept. 1:
Defining "American Studies"
Sept. 5 & 8:

From the Beginning?: Comparing different versions of Christopher Columbus
Recommended Reading / Viewing:

  • What is wrong with this picture:? Mel-O-Toons: Christopher Columbus (New World Productions and United Artists, 1960)
  • Romanus Pontifex (1454)
  • excerpt from Bartolome de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
  • Michel Montaigne's "Of Cannibals" (1588)
  • Moodle Group posting #1:          Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017

    For those in Group A: Before Wednesday, September 6 at 12 am (midnight) please post a short response paper at our Moodle course site in which you choose and describe a picture that appears in Thomas Harriot's A Brief and True Report... Your posting should be somewhere in the range of 200-300 words. Remember that your analysis begins with your choice of an image-- why did you choose this particular one? Before we meet on Friday, try to read the postings of your fellow students and repond to one (agreeing, disagreeing, or extending what her or his posting says).

    These images were based on eye witness watercolor paintings by John White; the engraver, Theodor DeBry, made some changes when he etched the plates. If you would like to compare the original to the engraving, you can see the originals at the Virtual Jamestown Project at the University of Virginia.

    For those of you in Group B: sometime before Thursday, September 7 at midnight, please log in to Moodle and respond to a posting by your classmate. You are of course free to express agreement, disagreement, or to extend the idea of the posting to which you are responding.

    (To access Moodle, login to the HKU Portal and click on the tab for "My eLearning". You will go to page with the option of logging into Moodle-- click on the link and you should be in Moodle and see our course.)

    OCTOBER 12, 1492
    placed in U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1847
    John Vanderlyn
    WEEK 2:
    Tues / Fri
    Sept 12 & 15:
    Imaging and Imagining "Virginia": Thomas Harriot, John Smith, and Pocahontas
    Moodle Group posting #2:          Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017

    Group A: Before Wednesday (September 13) at 12 am (midnight) please post a short response paper at the Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017 in which you choose a letter from the The New England Primer and analyze it as a tool for teaching children how to read. What might you infer about the way Puritans viewed the world and their lives? Your posting should be somewhere in the range of 300-500 words. Remember that your analysis begins with your choice of an image-- why did you choose this particular one?

    For those of you in Group B: please log in to Moodle and respond to a posting by your classmate (agreeing, disagreeing, or extending what her or his posting says).

    AT JAMESTOWN, 1613
    placed in the US Capitol Rotunda in 1840
    John Gadsby Chapman

    (Disney, 1995)
    WEEK 3:
    T / F,
    Sept. 19 & 22:
    Puritans I: Defining Faith in Early New England Settlements
    Recommended Reading: (only suggestions for your further consideration; but these may be used in the take-home portion of your exams)

  • Michael Wigglesworth, Day of Doom (1662; stanzas 144-152; 166-181-- pg. 62, 65); Here is an online version
  • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1954)
  • William Cronon, Changes in the Land : Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England(1983)
  • Daniel Ricther, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America(2003)
  • Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (2000)
  • James Axtell "White Indians of North America" The William and Mary Quarterly 32.1 (Jan. 1975)
  • James Axtell and William C. Sturtevant, "The Unkindest Cut: Or, Who Invented Scalping" The William and Mary Quarterly 37.3 (July 1980)

  • Moodle Group posting #3:          Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017

    Group A: Before Wednesday (Sept. 20) at 12 midnight please post a short response paper at the Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017 in which you compare the two different Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London title pages of Mary Rowlandson's Sovereignty and Goodness of God. (Please note that there is also a link to these pages through the icon on the right.) What similarities and differences do you notice-- what do the differences mean? For example, why is this book being presented differently for an audience in the colonies than it is for a London audience?

    For those of you in Group B: please respond to a posting by Group A.

    Commissioned 1837; placed 1844
    US Capital rotunda, Washington, DC
    Robert Walter Weir

    Anne Bradstreet
    and John Robinson
    on Pilgrim children

    "Literacy Then and Now"
    Andrew Newman
    Common-Place, (April 2002)

    (Nicholas Hytner, 1996)
    WEEK 4:
    T / F,
    Sept. 26 & 29:
    Puritans II: Gender, Puritanism and the National Legacy of Female Purity
    Recommended Reading:

  • Cotton Mather, "A Narrative of Hannah Swarton" (1702, p. 186-194 in Sayre)
  • Sherman Alexie, "Captivity"
  • William Apess, "Eulogy on King Philip" (1836)
  • William Apess, "Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man" (1836)

  • Susan Faludi, America's Guardian Myths, The New York Times(7 September 2007)

  • Moodle Group posting #4:          Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017

    Group B: Why independence? Before Wednesday (Sept. 27) at 12 midnight please post a short reponse paper at Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017 in which you choose a single word from the Declaration of Independence-- a word that you think best summarizes the logic behind the document's revolutionary declaration of independence. Your word should try to capture the document's underlying argument for independence-- how did Jefferson argue for the separation from England? After you post your response, try to read the postings of your fellow students and respond to one (agreeing, disagreeing, or extending what he or she has to say).

    For those of you in Group A: please respond to a posting by Group B.

    Compare the
    Boston and London
    title pages


    WEEK 5:
    Oct. 3 & 6:
    The Founding Documents of the United States and the Aesthetics of Revolution
    Moodle Group posting #5 :          Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017

    Group A: Franklin's autobiography is full of "anecdotes" (short tales or stories) and observations. Before Wednesday (Oct. 4) at 12 midnight please post a short response paper at the Moodle group for AMER1050_1A_2017 in which you choose one from his autobiography. We will discuss your selection in class. Here are some questions for you to consider in your selection: How do the principles Puritan faith appear (or not appear) in Franklin's life story? How does Franklin use the telling of his life to represent the United States as a nation-- is Franklin presenting himself as a typical "American"?

    For those of you in Group B: please respond to a posting by Group A.

    Cornell University

    (HBO, 2008)
    WEEK 6:
    T / F,
    Oct 10 & 13:
    American Dream I: The National Man and the Public Sphere
    Recommended Reading:

  • Benjamin Franklin, "Treaty of Carlisle, 1753"
  • Franklin's Rules for Making Oneself A Disagreeable Companion (1750)
  • Extent of US Wealth Inequality (Mashable)
  • Excerpt from Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05; English translation, 1930)

    Review of Isaacson's
    Franklin bio

    Walter Isaacson
    on Franklin
    T / F,
    Oct. 17 & 20

    Reading Week: Please read Hannah Foster's The Coquette (no class)

    WEEK 7:
    T / Th,
    Oct. 24 & 27
    Feminine Purity and the Early Crisis of National Family

    Way Down East
    (1920; D.W. Griffith)

    Thomas Cole

    WEEK 8:
    T / F
    Oct. 31 & Nov 3:
    American Dream II: The Melting Pot of National Husbandry

    Caricature of the "transparent eyeball"
    by Christopher Cranch

    Michael Mann


    WEEK 9:
    Nov. 7 & 10
    The American Slave Narrative, I

  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845); See pages in 1-36 Quote Pack 3|

    Reynold's Political Map of the United States (1856)

  • Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997)

  • Douglass on Garrison
    from My Bondage and My Freedom(1855)

    WEEK 10:
    T / F,
    Nov. 14 & 17
    The American Slave Narrative, II

  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861); See pages 1-19 in Quote Pack 4|
    Recommended Reading:

  • William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography (1986)
  • Eric Sundquist, To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature (1993)

    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997)
    WEEK 11:
    T / F,
    Nov. 21 & 24:
    The Civil War

  • Abraham Lincoln, "Second Inaugural Address" (1865)

  • Sullivan Ballou Letter, from The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)

  • "Cameristas"; New York Times, (2 May 2013). Photography and the Civil War.

  • Excerpts from The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)

    Recommended Reading:

  • Peter Coviello, "Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman", American Literature (March 2001)

  • John Brown,
    Julia Ward Howe,
    and the "Battle Hymn
    of the Republic"
    Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

    Portraits of
    Abraham Lincoln

    WEEK 12:
    Nov. 28:
    Civil War and after...

  • Walt Whitman, "When Lilacs last on my Dooryard Bloomed" (1865), in Leaves of Grass (1855, 1856, 1860, 1867, 1871-72, 1876, 1881, 1888-89, and 1891-92)

  • cover pages of the Atlantic Monthly

  • Emily Dickinson, "There's a Certain Slant of Light" (#258; 1890)

    Final Exam click here
    The take-home exam will consist of short essays. It is due on Tuesday, December 12th by 5 pm in paper copy
    please submit a paper copy to the main office of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures (SMLC), 5.01 Run Run Shaw Tower.

  • THE CIVIL WAR (Ken Burns, 1990)

    Abraham Lincoln
    and Walt Whitman