the Frontier syllabus

updated 6240 syllabus & schedule

since Mike asked…

Course description

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared America’s geographical frontier closed (based on the most recent census); however, he also argued that American writers before and since have used the concept of “the Frontier” as a metaphor for self-reliance and philosophical searching.  As a class, we will explore how American writers around the turn-of-the-20th century used the myth of the frontier as a strategic response to concerns and anxieties about a then modernizing, urbanizing, and industrializing nation. We will read these texts using an American Studies approach, paying close attention to issues of gender, ethnicity, class, cultural position, and so on. Moreover, we will incorporate film and other media to help us envision this intersection of wilderness and civilization, this edge, this dropping off place—both as a physical place and as a psychological, spiritual, even virtual space.

Course outcomes

You will

  1. Investigate the literary history of “the Frontier” through weekly reading responses (~2 pages each) and class discussions
  2. Analyze and interpret texts from various perspectives and appreciate how differences in context can produce multiple readings of a text
  3. Conduct scholarly inquiry and produce two literary research papers (~10 pages each) in the manner of a literary critic and in the style recommended by the current MLA
  4. Report your research to the class

Primary texts – available at WSU Bookstore or online

  • Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe The Shirley Letters: From the California Mines, 1851-1852
  • Mark Twain Roughing It (1871)
  • Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton The Squatter and the Don (1885)
  • Frederick Jackson Turner The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1893)
  • Owen Wister “Evolution of the Cowpuncher” (1895)
  • James Mooney The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee (1896)
  • Zitkala-Sa American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings (1901)
  • Mary Austin The Land of Little Rain (1903)
  • Zane Grey Riders of the Purple Sage (1912)
  • Willa Cather The Professor’s House (1925)

Films and other media – available online or shown in class

  • “The Searchers” – John Ford movie (1956)
  • The West – Ken Burns series (1996)
  • We Shall Remain – American Experience series

Secondary literary and historical criticism – available on reserve or as ebooks, or distributed in class

  • Helen Hunt Jackson A Century of Dishonor
  • Henry Nash Smith The Virgin Land
  • Annette Kolodny The Lay of the Land
  • Jane Tompkins West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns
  • Anne Goldman Continental Divides: Revisioning American Literature
  • Patricia Limerick et al. Trails: Toward a New Western History
  • Tey Diana Rebolledo Women Singing in the Snow: A Cultural Analysis of Chicana Literature
  • Gloria Anzaldua Borderlands/La Frontera
  • Brigitte Georgi-Findlay The Frontiers of Women’s Writing: Women’s Narratives and the Rhetoric of Westward Expansion
  • Robert M. Utley The Indian Frontier 1846-1890
  • Arnold Krupat For Those Who Came After: A Study of Native American Autobiography
  • Richard Slotkin The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890
  • Rosowski, Susan J Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature
  • Michael Kowalewski, ed. Reading the West: New Essays on the Literature of the American West
  • Noreen Groover Lape West of the Border: The Multicultural Literature of the Western American Frontiers
  • Micolas S Witschi, ed. A Companion to The Literature and Culture of the American West
  • Mary Lawlor Recalling the Wild: Naturalism and the Closing of the American West
  • Paula Gunn Allen The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions

About BJ

living the dream in northern Utah
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1 Response to the Frontier syllabus

  1. This is great! So many books I haven’t read. I may have to follow along with your class. 🙂

    Thanks for posting!


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