Dr. Kendall Johnson
     kjohnson [@] hku.hk
     Office Hours: Tuesday afternoons
     from 2-5 and by appointment

     Class: KK605; Office: 819 K.K. Leung

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

NOTE: Links jump to points further down on this page


This senior seminar in American Studies offers students the opportunity to enjoy the intellectual foundation that they have built by examining closely the important concepts of the "captivity narrative" and the "frontier" in United States film and literature. The "captivity narrative" dates back to the first encounters between Europeans and the Natives of the New World. In its most basic formula, the captivity narrative is about an Euro-American woman on the frontier settlement who relates her capture by Indian "savages," her experience in captivity, her escape, and eventual restoration into her proper society. Why were captivity narratives so popular? Who was reading them and why? In what ways did these narratives depend on assumptions regarding gender, race and class in order to structure the dramatic turns of abduction and redemption?

As we read texts that are the foundation of American culture, our concern is also with the legacy of these texts as they influenced authors and film makers in subsequent centuries and to this very day. We will see authors reinvent and the themes of captivity and the frontier to reflect on a system of political identity based in a national system of property that makes them feel lonely and alienated. Other authors will use the captivity narrative to fight for their legal freedom and political and economic enfranchisement.

PRIMARY TEXTS: available in the University Bookstore, on Amazon.com, or as PDF files (links are below, in the Course Schedule): FILMS:


Your final grade will be an average of these four requirements. The tentative breakdown is: in-class participation (20%), short-response papers (20%), midterm paper (30%) and final paper (30%).

Note: When writing your essays it is important for you to acknowledge through proper citation any secondary sources that you have used. If you borrow someone else's words or ideas be sure to mention this in the body of the essay or in a footnote. Regarding my plagiarism policy and citation procedure, see http://www.hku.hk/amstudy/plag/index.htm.



Thursday, January 13:


Primary reading:

  • John Smith's The Generall History of Virginia (1624; pgs. 82-90 in Sayre)
  • Disney's Pocahontas (movie, 1995)
  • First Charter of Virginia(1606)
  • Excerpt from Kathryn Derounian-Stodola and James Arthur Levernier, The Indian Captivity Narrative, 1550-1900 (1993)
         Chapters 1 (The Captivity Tradition in Fact and Fiction) and 2 (Mythology of...)
    AT JAMESTOWN, 1613
    placed in U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1840
    John Gadsby Chapman

    WEEK 2
    Th, January 20: (First Half)


    Primary Readings:

  • Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682, p. 132-176 in Sayre)

    Secondary reading

  • Learning to read like a Puritan: excerpts from The New England Primer

  • Excerpts from Michael Wigglesworth, Day of Doom (1662)
  • John Locke, Second Treatise (1690)
  • Sherman Alexie, "Captivity"
  • Cotton Mather on Hannah Dustan from Magnalia Christi Americana: Or, The Ecclesaistical History of New England (1702), and on "A Narrative of Hannah Swarton" (1702, p. 186-194 in Sayre)
  • Susan Faludi, America's Guardian Myths, The New York Times(7 September 2007)

  • Compare the
    Boston and London
    title pages

    Anne Bradstreet
    and John Robinson
    on Pilgrim children

    Captivity narrative
    episode of Little
    House on the Prairie

    WEEK 3
    Th. Jan. 27:

    James Seaver, The Life of Mary Jemison (1824)

    "The Western: Or the American Film Par Excellence"() and "The Evolution of the Western" ()
    from What is Cinema: Vol. II (in French, 1958-62)

    The Searchers
    (1956; John Ford)

    Th. Feb 3:

    No Class: Holiday

    WEEK 4
    Th. Feb 10:


  • Declaration of Independence, in Jefferson's Autobiography
  • Here is Jefferson's hand-written draft of the Declaration. Notice the the irregular spacing between words in Dunlop's broadside of the Declaration(click on icon at right). What might these spaces mean? Celebrity reading of document
  • The Articles of Confederation and The Constitution from Henry Steele Commager's Documents of American History
  • "Federalist X from The Federalist Papers (1788)
  • Notice the the irregular spacing between words in Dunlop's broadside of the Declaration(click on icon at right). What might these spaces mean?
  • John Dunlop's broadside

    WEEK 5
    Th. Feb. 17:

    Feminine Purity and the Early Crisis of National Family

    Susanna Rowson, Charlotte Temple (1794)
    Way Down East
    (1920; D.W. Griffith)

    WEEK 6
    Th. Feb. 24:


    Primary reading:

  • Henry David Thoreau, "Walden" (1854) and "Resistance to Civil Government,"
    pages 189-213 (1849)

  • Into the Wild
    (Sean Penn; 2007)

    literary references
    in Into the Wild
    (Sean Penn; 2007)

    Th. Mar. 3:


    MIDTERM PAPER TOPICS, essays are due by Friday March 11 at 5 pm.

    Useful terms: from Timonthy Corrigan and Patricia White, "Glossary" of The Film Experience: An Introduction (2004)

    WEEK 7
    Th. Mar. 10: (Part 1)


    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)
  • Fugitive Slave Acts (1850, Commager pdf file)
  • Douglass on Garrison
    from My Bondage and My Freedom(1855)

    WEEK 8
    Th. Mar. 17:

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

    (1997; Steven Spielberg)

    WEEK 9
    Th. Mar. 24:


    Primary reading:

  • Herman Melville, "Benito Cereno", pp. 66-170 (1855; 1856 book publication)
  • WEEK 10
    Th. Mar. 31:


    Henry James, Daisy Miller (1878)

    Lost in Translation (2003)

    WEEK 11
    Th. Apr. 7:

    Bharati Mukherjee, Holder of the World (1993)

    WEEK 12
    Th. Apr. 14:

    Bharati Mukherjee, Holder of the World (1993)

    WEEK 13
    Th. Apr. 21:

    Wrap up and brainstorming for final exam. FINAL PAPER TOPICS, essays are due by Friday April 29 at 5 pm.