Licenciatura en Estudios Internacionales VI ciclo Anthropology: American Culture and Civilization

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Licenciatura en Estudios Internacionales

VI Ciclo
Anthropology: American Culture and Civilization
March-July 2005

M W 9-11am

Office hours: M W 11am-12noon, 206 Investigaciones Bldg.

Professor Lynn Hirschkind

Course Description: Is there an “American culture”? The United States is a nation of immigrants from everywhere in the world. The outstanding feature of an “American culture” would be its diversity, not a useful concept for capturing the national essence, but inevitable in this case. In this course, we explore some aspects of America’s diversity: kinship, gender roles, religion, work, and race or ethnicity are fundamental social institutions that organize and give meaning to existence. The unifying concept of the American Dream provides a conciliatory option within this dizzy multiplicity. How does this Dream fit in with wild heterogeneity? Or, have we been talking about a dream all along?
Comparison between American and Ecuadorian institutions is a useful method with which to grasp the cultural logic of each. The main text for this course details an extensive comparison between cultural elements of 19th century Ecuadorian and American economies. This view of the early United States shows the diversity, the origins of the American Dream, and the roots of some of the conflicts that characterize US society today. It reveals the inevitable shadows of history, both here and there, casting their shade into the present.
Purposes: This course encompasses several independent objectives. First, it approaches aspects of American culture from an anthropological perspective. Not a survey, not a complete or global vision, not a summary, but rather a series of contemplations of specific topics, such as regional cultures, race, ethnic relations and work, are the subjects of this course. Our frame of reference is organized around the central theme of economic choices and opportunities seen from an anthropological perspective. Second, this course proposes to study and practice the educational techniques of American universities. Learning in the classroom, through research and expressed in writing will all be practiced in their American forms and styles. An important component is the term paper which will require definition of a research project, carrying out an investigation, and writing up the entire process in an analytic and synthetic paper.

Third, the class is entirely in English, so that students may practice their listening comprehension, writing and verbal expression in an academic setting. This format serves to prepare students for further study at English-speaking universities and colleges.

Texts: Tales of Two Cities: Race and Economic Culture in Early Republican North and South America. Camilla Townsend. 2000. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Reader of collected articles on related topics. Various authors. The reader must be purchased at the UDA copy center.

Grades: A combination of short written assignments, a longer term paper, intermittent quizzes, a midterm and a final exam are the basis of a final grade in the course.

Map quiz: 2 points

Reading quizzes: 3 points

4 short papers:15 points (3.75 each)

Midterm exam: 10 points

Term paper: 10 points

Final exam: 10 points

Total: 50 points

Although the class is taught in English it is NOT an English class. Thus grades will not directly assess English competence, except to the extent that this limits a student’s comprehension and exposition of course subject matter.
Class Organization: I will prepare a vocabulary list and questions relevant to each class. This is a lecture course, but extensive student participation is welcome. I encourage students to ask questions at any time. We will have a ten minute break between the two class hours. In this class we will practice punctuality, consideration for others, good manners, and honorability.
Class Schedule:

  1. March 14 Introduction: rules, organization, goals. Gringo stereotypes.

  2. March 16 What is an anthropological approach? Read Body Ritual among the Nacirema, by Horace Miner, in reader.

  3. March 21 What is an anthropological approach? Key concepts: melting pot, diversity, liberty, democracy, equality, individualism, American Dream. Read Cultural Literacy, Chapter IV, in reader. A summary of national values.

  4. March 23 Geography, map. Regional summary of geography, climate, population, economy, history. Key places: Alamo, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Gettysburg, Salt Lake City, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Donner Pass, Black Hills, Valley Forge, Dallas, Plymouth Rock. Read American Geography in reader.

  5. March 28 America in 1831, as seen by Alexis de Tocqueville. He commented on associations, pragmatism, individualism, majority rule, women and girls, religion and philosophy, and materialism. Read “Origin of the Anglo-Americans” in reader.

  6. March 30 Pre-1865 history. Read American History to 1865 in reader.

  7. April 4 Culture Matters. Read, David Landes, Culture Makes almost all the Difference. The old nature vs. nurture debate, and Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic. (Term paper proposal due.)

  8. April 6 Theories of economic development. Read Introduction in Townsend. Culturalist vs. Structuralist debate. Map quiz.

  9. April 11 Movie: Dances with Wolves. A totally romantic portrayal of the Sioux, and a totally repugnant portrayal of whites, except Kevin Costner, of course. But, historically, ethnographically and geographically educational. Review Indian topics in American History to 1865.

  10. April 13 Historical background. Read Chapter One, Townsend.

  11. April 18 Historical comparison of Baltimore and GYE. Read Chapter Two, Townsend.

  12. April 20 Movie: Gone with the Wind. Major classic film depicting the Civil War era South. Americans can’t forget this film 66 years after it was released, because its themes are still pertinent today: race relations, class relations, regional conflict, love, greed, and selfishness. (short paper 1 due in one week) Review slavery and the South in American History to 1865.

  13. April 25 Elites: labor taxation, investment, daily practices, trade networks. Read Chapters Three and Four, Townsend.

  14. April 27 Elites. Read Chapters Three and Four, Townsend.

  15. May 2 American Dream and national values, summary.

  16. May 4 Midterm exam.

  17. May 9 Middle sectors: civil involvement, entrepreneurs, professionals, artisans. Read Chapters Five and Six, Townsend.

  18. May 11 Middle sectors. Read Chapters Five and Six, Townsend. (Term paper outline or draft due.)

  19. May 16 Movie: Grapes of Wrath. Classic film based on classic novel by John Steinbeck. Righteous poor farmers confront evil agribusiness in Depression era California, and prevail! (short paper 2 due in one week) May 18 Fiestas del Estudiante

  20. May 23 Poor sectors: better life, buying into the city, work, immigrants, freedmen, Indians. Read Chapters Seven and Eight, Townsend.

  21. May 25 Poor sectors. Why Frederick Bailey became Frederick Douglass. Read Chapters Seven and Eight, Townsend.

  22. May 30 Movie: La Bamba. The short life of Ritchie Valens (Ricardo Valenzuela), early rock and roll star, Mexican American hero. Pure pathos and mostly true. Read Immigrants Shunning Idea of Assimilation, in reader. (short paper 3 due in one week)

  23. June 1 Conclusion Read Townsend, evaluation of book, American values.

  24. June 6 O J Simpson case, race issues. The trial of the century: murder! sex! racism! rich and famous! wife abuse! DNA, blood, hair! All on TV! Read Teaching Culture: Imagined Communities and National Fantasies in the O. J. Simpson Case, in reader.

  25. June 8 Movie: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Hollywood mega stars deal politely with the race issue. (short paper 4 due in one week)

  26. June 13 Kennewick Man case. The Boston Tea Party. Read Playing Indian, Introduction and Conclusion, Philip Deloria, in reader.

  27. June 15 Native Americans today. Red Power, powwows, reservations, resistance and integration.

  28. June 20 Feminist issues, gender roles, family. The materialist perspective, no lofty idealism here. Read Why Women Left Home, Marvin Harris, in reader.

  29. June 22 Movie: The Bird Cage. A devoted gay but bickering gay couple make peace after an ordeal with their son’s prospective in-laws. Hysterical but sympathetic portrayal of gay life in South Beach, Florida. Read Why the Gays Came Out of the Closet, Marvin Harris, in reader. (Term paper due)

  30. June 27 Proverbs. American common sense and native wisdom. Read “Proverbs” in reader.

  31. June 29 Discussion, characterization of American Culture. Read Living in the USA, Twenty-First Century Issues, in reader.

  32. July 4 Final exam.

Assignments: All written assignments should be typed with one inch margins on each side, and the pages stapled together. A title and the author’s name should appear at the top of the first page.

The four short papers (2 pages) are movie commentaries. They should summarize the plot, theme, and point of view of the film, and then provide a succinct, perceptive and critical analysis relating this account to the topics under the rubric of “American culture.” The films should be interpreted as sources of information, as commentaries, and as objects of analysis, all with the purpose of gaining insight into American culture.

Term papers of approximately 10 pages entail a comparative analysis of a specific element of American culture with its Ecuadorian manifestation or counterpart. Focusing on a carefully defined topic (e.g. Halloween, hip hop, KFC, indigenous political movements, “race”) describe the US and Ecuadorian contexts in which it occurs, comparing them in search of explanations for similarities and differences. Note that the topic may be a category (race, political movements) or an American element that has metastasized to Ecuador. The Townsend book is a model for this paper.

A topic proposal of approximately two paragraphs and an outline or draft of the paper are required at the beginning and middle of the term. The paper will be due about two weeks before the end of the term so that it does not distract from final exams.

The research for this paper should include literature review, library research, possibly interviews, observations and web sources. All the sources must be cited in the references at the end of the paper. We will discuss the format, organization and style of academic exposition in class. Students should consult with me about their topics and progress throughout the term.
The midterm and final exams consist of short answer questions, multiple choice questions, and one or two essay questions.

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