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Graduate Reading List for The American West

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This fall, I am teaching graduate students for the first time. I am teaching our senior capstone course, which graduate students can sign up for. My course in on the history of the American West. Usually 1 or 2 graduate students sign up, but I have 6 for whatever reason–my charming personality no doubt. So I’m having them meet separately (in part) for a mini-seminar. As Farley does with the Patterson reading list, I thought people might be interested in the readings I chose. Some of you will disagree with some of the readings, or I hope so anyway.

In a normal graduate seminar, I’d assign a book a week. This isn’t quite that, so some weeks there are books and other weeks a couple of book chapters or articles.

The theme of the course is power. Of course power relations define all history, but because of aridity, racial tension, and the dominance of the region by extractive capitalism, power relations in the West take on a special tone. I can’t truly provide a comprehensive history of the topic in a semester, but this is what I have. There are only 11 weeks of readings because of holidays and plans on other days, so it’s more limited than I’d like.

Week 1: Overview
Richard Etulain, Did the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional?
This is my coverage of Turner’s frontier thesis and his critics. Get it out of the way and move onto something more interesting. I always hated dealing with these debates but it’s inevitable I suppose.

Week 2: The Indigenous West
Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire

Week 3: The Incorporation of the West
William Cronon, “Annihilating Space: Meat” from Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
Richard Maxwell Brown, “The Gunfighter: The Reality Behind the Myth,” from No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American Society
William Robbins, “An ‘Equilibrium of Chaos’: External Control and the Northern West” from Colony and Empire: The Capitalist Transformation of the American West

Week 4: Tourism and Conservation
Theodore Roosevelt, “The Vigor of Life,” “In Cowboy Land,” and “The Natural Resources of the Nation,” from An Autobiography
Chris Wilson, “Romantic Regional Architecture, 1905 to 1930,” from The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition
Louis Warren, “’Raiding Devils’ and Democratic Freedoms: Indians, Ranchers, and New Mexico Wildlife,” from The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America

Week 5: The Working-Class West
Richard White, “Workingmen” from Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
Cecilia Tsu, “’Independent of the Unskilled Chinaman’: Race, Labor, and Family Farming in California’s Santa Clara Valley,” Western Historical Quarterly Winter 2006
Gunther Peck, “Manhood Mobilized,” from Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930

Week 6: Water, Natural Resources, and the West
Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s

Week 7: The Gendered West
Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Home Lands: How Women Made the West

Week 8: Urbanization and Suburbanization
Read: John Findlay, “Sun City, Arizona: New Town for Old Folks, from Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940
Mike Davis, “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn” from Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
Quintard Taylor, “Facing the Urban Frontier: African-American History in the Reshaping of the Twentieth-Century American West” Western Historical Quarterly Spring 2012

Week 9: Postwar Social Movements in the West
Josh Sides, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco

Week 10: Environmentalism and the Modern West
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, p. 1-67
Darren Speece, “From Corporatism to Citizen Oversight: The Legal Fight over California Redwoods, 1970-1996,” Environmental History October 2009
Jake Kosek, “Smokey the Bear is a White Racist Pig” from Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico

Week 11: Migration and Borders
Monica Perales, Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community

Week 12: The West Today
Students search out recent articles and make short presentations connecting to the historical themes of the semester.
Given that this is the last day of classes, I don’t feel I can really assign real readings in this week. Particularly since they will be in the hell of writing their 20-30 page historiographical paper for me.

I see the strengths of this syllabus as a real focus on the relationship between diversity and power and that the major themes are woven through the weeks and not just confined to one week.

Weaknesses include not enough on Native Americans in the second half of the course, the lack of a specific week on the rise of conservative politics (if I had one more week, I’d solve this problem), and not enough works by women, which is annoying and snuck up on me as these things will. But what would I cut out?

Thoughts? I’m actually open to suggestions since I don’t have to teach until Monday afternoon and won’t print off the syllabus until a couple of hours beforehand. The books can’t change obviously, but the articles and book chapters certainly could.

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