American History, Culture and Foreign Policy
Rationale: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the United States emerged as the most important nation in the world. Every nation has some kind of relationship with the United States, which is either profitable or unprofitable. No nation can ignore the United States or fail to understand American history, culture and foreign policy. Most nations therefore include American Studies within their academic, bureaucratic and administrative orientation. Since the nineteenth century nation states especially America have tired to define key words and ideas relating to freedom, welfare, civil rights, sovereignty, representation, democracy and religion to create a composite intellectual and political culture. The American Studies Program will introduce students to the inter-disciplinary study of American history, culture and foreign policy and help them to understand how Americans and non-Americans think about America.
The course will introduce 4 modules, each module containing a big idea namely:
- Nation and Narration: constructs the Pocahontas story/myth; human arrival in North America; Native American life; the Americas, West Africa and Europe on the eve of contact; American industrial heritage; the work of Samuel Slater in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Pawtucket in constructing industrial America.
- Immigration and Cultural Change: ‘Old’ and ‘New’ immigration; the world of the immigrants; a new working class; the limits of mobility and ethnic diversity; the Chinese Exclusion Act; new forms of leisure and mass entertainment; the American Dream; 1965 Immigration Policy; multiculturalism and identity politics.
- National and International Identities: Reconstructing World War II, American neutrality and the road to war; post-war economic boom, the rise of consumer society; the crabgrass frontier; the Baby Boom; the birth of television and the influence of advertising; roles of women and The Feminine Mystique; the Korean War; the arms race; the Red Scare and McCarthyism; the early civil rights movement; teen rebellion and rock’ n roll; the media and Vietnam War; rise of CNN.
- American Foreign Policy—Neutrality to Involvement (1865-1917); Early American isolationism, moral foreign policy; postwar naval/air supremacy (1920-2004), manifest destiny, American unilateralism, America as the policeman of the world, clash of civilization and war on terror. The course will help students to confront the contradictions and inherent tensions in the American narrative without the false hope of an easy solution. We will not fail to discuss democratic aspirations, concepts of justice, American solidarity/Christian and Islamic divide and evolving nations of national identity. Along the way we would also question the methods and perspectives by which we study our subject by asking some of the following questions:
a) How do Americans think of themselves as a nation and the rest of the world ? And how do people from other nations think about America ? (Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilization; radical evil/Christian good; liberal/democratic frameworks—Richard Bernstein, Radical Evil)
b) How is space constructed in the lives of individuals in America ? How changes brought in by pre-industrial, industrial and postindustrial societies reconstituted the lives of people in the U.S. ? (Vertical/horizontal expansion; notions of bigness/assertion; David Reisman, The Lonely Crowd; national parks—European signatures/Native American erasures—Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park)
c) What are the popular methods of understanding the culture and society of America ? (Clifford Geertz and others)
d) How do we imagine the past and its effects on social and cultural representation ? (Hayden White, Stuart Hall and David Hollinger)
e) How do the concepts of American unilateralism and manifest destiny define American foreign policy ?
f) Is the rise of the modern West a pure or impure concept ? (Chris Bayly and Bernal)
The students will get an opportunity to:
- acquire presentation and negotiation skills
- learn new concepts, methods and vocabulary
- understand stereotypes of knowledge, reason/critical thinking, culture, gender and politics (bias, manipulation, prejudice, discrimination and hegemony)
- synthesize diverse opinions and perspectives from within and outside America
- develop skills to write/think purposefully and strategically
- acquire the habit to pursue knowledge independently and scientifically