Professor: Tim Williams
The 2016 national election cycle showcased, dramatically at times, competing visions for the meaning of the American nation and citizenship. In order to understand these complex, competing, and often painfully ahistorical visions, we must consider their origins from a scholarly perspective. Accordingly, in this class we’ll ask big questions about American nationalism, its history and its contemporary uses: What is a nation? How does nationalism work? How and why did ideas about nationalism change over time? Because these questions are so vast, this course focuses on the United States from its establishment to the present day.
We will begin the class by studying the origins of nationalism in the modern era by studying Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, a work of lasting theoretical and historical significance. Then, in thematically organized units we will apply Anderson’s theories to various instances of nation building, destroying, and re-making in the United States. In the process, we will explore important themes that influence our political culture today, including slavery and race; immigration, ethnicity, and nativism; regional identity; and gender and sexual orientation.
Expect a rigorous reading load of primary source literature ranging from old newspapers to slave narratives to fiction; vibrant class discussion and student-led presentations; and writing assignments such as brief responses to the reading and at least two formal essays.