"The Frontier in American Literature, History, and Film"

Thomas Cole, Indian Pass (1847). 


The theme of this class is the American frontier. Over five short weeks we will travel from Puritan captivity narratives to Hollywood westerns in order to survey the frontier’s geographical and temporal terrains using literary, historical, and cinematic media. Our objective is to place each text, whether it’s an antebellum dime novel or an episode of Star Trek, in the context of its frontierscape. While our survey begins in the colonial era, we will concentrate on historical, literary, and political texts from the nineteenth century. We will frame each section (or “remove” in parlance of this course) with related twentieth century representations, including advertisements, television series, and movies, to achieve a multivalent understanding of the American frontier’s spatial, temporal, and metaphorical contingency.


Written essays and assignments, presentations, class participation, & attendance. In addition to in-class writing, you will be writing, on average, at least one short essay per week.


Burgett & Hendler / Keywords for American Culture Studies / 2014 / 978-0814708019

Hacker / The Bedford Handbook / 2013 / 978-1457608025


I will provide selections of all other readings courtesy of The Internet Archive, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, and The Heath Anthology of American Literature.


For each assigned reading I will assign a scout. Each of you will be responsible for at least one reading. As a scout, you will carefully read the text, conduct outside research, and spark conversation with a handout containing 3-5 open-ended questions.


I have framed each week with two or three keywords relevant to our readings and screenings. Each of you will conduct a five-minute presentation (with handout) on an entry from Keywords for American Culture Studies. If you would like to volunteer for a particular entry, you may do so at our first class.


The length of writings will vary based upon the path you cut through the course. Each Tuesday I will supply three assignments (“missions”). To advance to the next week, you will need to accrue at least ten points. You can earn up to ten points on each 500-word assignment, and you may submit more than one. You can also earn up to five points for scouting a reading or prospecting a keyword. You will culminate your journey with a 1500-word research paper on a topic of your choice. All writings must be typed in Microsoft Word, double-spaced (1-inch margins) and submitted via DropBox. Please follow the MLA formatting criteria detailed in The Bedford Handbook.


Participation is mandatory. Given our compressed schedule, I cannot accept late work, unexcused absences, or tardiness. Holster your phones, laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices.


Academic dishonesty or plagiarism is a serious offense. Any instance of academic dishonesty on your part will result in a failure for the course & a report to your dean. When we discuss research techniques & papers, we will discuss various forms of plagiarism.

First Remove / Colonial Woods

Introduction / Between Hector St. John de Crèvecœur and Frederick Jackson Turner

Keyword / Terror; Space

Screening / Avatar (2009)

Reading / Mary Rowlandson, selection from The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682); Ben Franklin, A Narrative of the Late Massacres (1764); Samson Occom, selection from A Short Narrative of My Life (1768)

Second Remove / Borderlands of the Early Republic

Keyword / Border; Indian; White

Screening / selection from The Lone Ranger (1949-1957); Keep America Beautiful (ad campaign, 1971); The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Reading / Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, selection from Journals (1814); James Fenimore Cooper, selection from Pioneers (1822); Elias Boudinot, selection from “An Address to the Whites” (1826)

Third Remove / Andrew Jackson’s Frontiersmen

Keyword / Empire; Indigenous; Race/Racialization

Screening / selection from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994); The Homesman (2014)

Reading / William Apess, selection from A Son of the Forest (1833); Davy Crockett, selection from The Crockett Almanac (1842); Francis Parkman, selection from The California and Oregon Trail (1849); Herman Melville, selection from Moby-Dick (1851)

Fourth Remove / Gold from the American River

Keyword / America; Exceptionalism; Migration

Screening / The Searchers (1956)

Reading / Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, selection from “An Account of the Gold Rush” (1849); John Wannuaucon Quinney, selection from “Quinney’s Speech” (1854); Walt Whitman, selection from Leaves of Grass (1855-1892)

Fifth Remove / How The West Was Won—and Lost

Keyword / West; Freedom; Environment

ScreeningNo Country for Old Men (2007)

Reading / Charlot, selection from “He has filled graves with our bones” (1876); Prentiss Ingraham, Adventures of Buffalo Bill From Boyhood to Manhood (1881); Zitkala-Ša, selection from “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” (1900); “Why I Am a Pagan” (1902); Jack London, selection from “The Law of Life” (1901); “To Build a Fire” (1902)