On the first day of his new spring course, “Making Sense of America: Introduction to American Studies,” Philip J. Deloria started with a story. Actually, he started with six of them.
“We discussed ‘The City on a Hill,’ the Founding Fathers, the frontier, the bloody redemption of the Civil War, the melting pot, and the self-made man — the master narratives of American history,” said Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History and chair of the committee on Degrees in History and Literature.
One of Deloria’s goals for the History and Literature course — open to all undergraduates — is for students to “wonder about what new kinds of storying might be available in order to make sense of the present and future of the nation,” beyond the messages of its myths.
“American Studies is not simply about the formation of national boundaries and what happens within them, and it’s not a nationalist discipline or practice,” he added. “But it does spur us to think about things about this country that are valuable, important, and worth holding onto. This is a field that our students are hungry for right now, so they can learn how to think through these kinds of questions.”
To help students explore overlap between American Studies and other disciplines, Deloria has welcomed colleagues to the class for guest lectures on a range of subjects. They have included Jesse McCarthy, an assistant professor of English and of African and African American Studies; Eleanor Craig, program director for the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights and a lecturer in the same field and in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality; and Matt Saunders, a professor of Art, Film, and Visual Studies, who will host a screen-printing workshop at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts as part of a unit on the arts in American Studies.
“I think it’s a service to the students to see these disciplines and areas of work presented in a thematically coherent way,” said Deloria. “American Studies has always been a critical discipline, and a socially engaged, problem-centered way of thinking, and much more open to thinking about transnationalism, ethnic studies, Indigenous studies, vernacular culture, and other interests.”