Spring 2014 - Graduate Course Descriptions

Gossin, Pamela
Discipline and Number
HUHI 7315 Section 001
F Time 10:00 AM - 12:45 PM
Course Title
Idea of the American West

Description of Course:


From its days as an imagined frontier of unlimited possibilities, a rich native habitat of woods, prairies, Sandhills, Badlands and Rockies, the homeplace of numerous Native American tribal cultures, to the early era of Anglo-European exploration and settlement, through the Dust Bowl and modern agricultural and industrial development, the American West (as idea and “reality”) has experienced tremendous transformation over the past 400 years. Over time, the landscape of “the west” has served as a vast canvas for inscribing a wide range of human experiences, cultural and environmental changes.

In this course we will explore a wide variety of historical texts, creative literature and films that construct and engage the myths, stereotypes, and hidden truths of the human and natural drama of the American West. Among the themes and ideas we will discuss: the role of the natural environment and the relationship of men and women to the land; the creative tensions of exploration and domestication; the relationship of the Great American Desert to the boom/bust of the American Dream; the magic and disillusionment of the myth of “the wild, wild, west.”

Over the semester, we will examine major developments in the historiography and iconography of the "idea" of the American West. There will be ample opportunities (and much encouragement!) to pursue and develop individual research into various aspects of previously untold stories and unheard voices of those who lived on this landscape before us.

Required Texts:


HISTORY TEXTS: Tentative list; subject to change
(Do not purchase until after discussion 1st week of class (most of our historical readings will be made available free through Electronic Reserve!)

David Murdoch, The American West: The Invention of a Myth. University of Nevada Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0874173697.

Robert Hine, John Faragher, Frontiers: A Short History of the American West, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008; ISBN-10: 030013620X; ISBN-13: 978-0300136203

John D.Unruh, The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–1860 (1993)

Sheila McManus, Choices and Chances: A History of Women in the U.S. West,Wiley-Blackwell, 2011; ISBN: 978-0-88295-277-2

Patricia Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton & Company, 1988.

Elizabeth Jameson and Susan Armitage, eds., Writing the Range: Race, Class, and Culture in the Women’s West (1997)

LITERARY TEXTS: tentative list, subject to change

James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie, Penguin; ISBN: 9780140390261

John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, UNP; ISBN pending

Willa Cather, O Pioneers, Dover, 1993; ISBN-10: 0486277852 /ISBN-13: 978-0486277851

John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath Penguin, 2006; ISBN-10: 0143039431 /ISBN-13: 978-0143039433

Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Perennial, 1994 # 0060976241

Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories Scribner, 2000 # 0684852225
Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Mariner Books, 2001 # 0618127240
Linda Hogan, Solar Storms, Scribner, 1995; ISBN 978-684-82539-7
Pam Houston, Cowboys are my Weakness, Norton, 2005; ISBN-10: 0393326357 /
ISBN-13: 978-0393326352

Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

Attendance and Participation: 1/3rd
In-class presentation / critique of current scholarship: 1/3rd
12-15pp research paper with in-class conference-style presentation: 1/3rd

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