The Search for a Usable Past: A Cultural History of Three U.S. Decades



Faculty: Susan Preciso 866-6000, ext. 6011 Office: LIBRARY 3222

Joli Sandoz 866-6000, ext. 6850 Office: LAB II 2273

Credits: 8 credits each quarterFall, Winter, Spring

Meets: Monday and Wednesday, 6 to 9:30 pm and one Saturday per quarter

Program Description

As Americans, we continue to define and redefine ourselves. Participants in The Search for a Usable Past will follow threads of social justice, gender relations, religion, and work/technology/sport through three paradigmatic decades. The 1850s, 1890s, and 1950s embraced both movements for radical change and strong reaction as those changes began to seem inevitable. We will study one decade each quarter, beginning with the 1850s in fall; this focus will allow us to use each period as an opportunity for close historical/cultural exploration. This is an upper division program relevant to preparation for teaching, political work, and graduate work in the humanities, social sciences, and cultural studies. Credit will be awarded in history, literature, and cultural studies.

Our study will be guided by these questions:
What makes the past "usable"? What is the role of human agency in understanding and using of history/culture? What influences how we understand/construct history? Whose history do we construct? Are written texts a valid way to approach the past? How do such "artifacts" contain and construct meaning?

A second set of questions will focus our investigations:
Who defines "American"? What influences the definition? What are the mechanisms of this defining; that is, how are common understandings of the term agreed upon and communicated? Whom do the definitions serve? What are the power relationships involved? Have the definitions and power relationships changed through time? If so, what has influenced them? Who can use the definitions, and how?

Course Requirements and Credit Policy

1. Attendance at all class meetings including Saturday session (October 18 for Fall quarter). Regular and conscientious participation in seminar and workshop activities.

2. A complete, up-to-date reading journal.

3. On-time completion of one 3-4 page integrative essay, and one 8 page case study.

4. A completed portfolio of all written work, including evaluations.

6. Participation in on-going program development and evaluation.

7. Completion of a student self-evaluation and a student evaluation of faculty.

8. We cannot grant incompletes. In unusual circumstances, we can grant reduced credit.

The Search for a Usable Past


Poem "I Sing the Body Electric" from Selected Poems (Whitman)

The House of Seven Gables (Hawthorne)

Epilogue (pages 561-567) and Part One (Chpts. 1-5) of Beneath the American Renaissance (Reynolds)

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe)

Chpts. 6, 7, 9, 10 (pages 275-279, 294-298) and 11 of Beneath the American Renaissance (Reynolds)

Selected Poems (Whitman) and Chpt. 17 of Beneath the American Renaissance (Reynolds)

Walden (Thoreau)

Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (Schlissel) [selections only] and Chpts. 12-14 of Beneath the American Renaissance (Reynolds) [optional]

Bartleby and Benito Cereno (Melville)

In addition, articles will be assigned from the packet on sale in TESC bookstore, and you can expect an occasional handout.

Readings Due
Assignments Due

9/29 Monday
Workshop: What is History?

10/1 Wednesday
What we know about the 1850s
Short seminar-set expectations, discuss poem
Whitman poem "I Sing the Body Electric" for seminar
Written assignment: What I Know About the 1850s and Where I Learned It

10/6 Monday
Lecture: Lit of time (Preciso)
Seminar on Hawthorne
House of Seven Gables
Prepare an informal list to share, of the themes you found in the reading

10/8 Wednesday
Lecture: Religion of time (Sandoz)
Seminar on Hawthorne
Journal entry on House of Seven Gables

10/13 Monday
Primary Sources: Popular Culture
Workshop: Using sources (Preciso)
Seminar on Reynolds
Epilogue (pages 561-567) and Part One (Chpts. 1-5) of Beneath the American Renaissance
Journal entry on Reynolds

10/15 Wednesday
Writing workshop geared to assignments (Preciso)
Video: Dickinson

10/18 Saturday
Workshop: Researching on the Internet (9-noon computer lab in TESC Library building)
Guest lecture: Howard Schwartz "Politics of abolition/states rights" (1-3 in classroom)
Read the appropriate chapter in any standard history text to prepare for lecture (Who Built America is on reserve in the TESC library, at the circulation desk)

10/20 Monday
Workshops: Library and computer center (students attends each in rotation)

10/22 Wednesday
Guest lecture: Gary Reese (Tacoma Public Library) on archives
Seminar on Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Journal entry
Find, read and prepare to discuss one critical article on Uncle Tom's Cabin (due next class)

WK. 5
10/27 Monday
Workshop: What is popular culture? (Preciso and Sandoz)
Seminar on Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin
plus criticsm
Journal entry due

10/29 Wednesday
Lecture: Sports
Video: Baseball

WK. 6
11/3 Monday
Seminar on Reynolds
Optional informal meetings with faculty
Student groups to discuss case study issues and ideas
Chpts. 6, 7 of Beneath the American Renaissance

11/5 Wednesday
Lecture: Whitman (Preciso)
Seminar on Reynolds
Chpts. 9, 10, 11 of Beneath the American Renaissance
(Journal entry will be due in portfolio)

WK. 7
11/10 Monday
Seminar on Whitman
Discussion of where we are (guiding questions)
Selected Poems (Whitman) and Chpt. 17 of Beneath the American Renaissance
Case Study Report Due
Tentative thesis and two paragraphs marshaling information/facts you will use to support it.
(Journal entry will be due in portfolio)

11/12 Wednesday
Lecture: Constructs of nature (Preciso and Sandoz)
Seminar on Thoreau
Walden, Part 1 (Chpt. 1-9)

WK. 8
11/17 Monday
Video: Immigration (Irish)
Seminar on Thoreau
Walden, Part 2 (Chpt. 10-18)
(Journal entry will be due in portfolio)

11/19 Wednesday
Lecture: Immigration
(Preciso and Sandoz)
Small group work on three questions
Party of Fear chapters
Construction of identity; mechanisms and cultural purposes

11/23- 30

WK. 9
12/1 Monday
Video: "The Way West" (Native American emphasis)
Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (selections)
Case study due

12/3 Wednesday
Movie: Western
Seminar on Schlissel
Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (selections)

WK. 10
12/8 Monday
Lecture: Work- Communitarian (Preciso)
Lecture: Work- Concepts of work and leisure, beginnings of industrialization, small farm ideal (Sandoz)
Seminar on Melville
Benito Cereno and Bartleby

12/10 Wednesday
Potluck in TESC Longhouse
Revisit what we know about the 1850s
Integrative paper and portfolio due

WK. 11
Evaluation week and conferences




Gives reasons for point of view, opinions

Uses notes or prep papers during discussion

Refers to the text when commenting

Usually has substantive contributions which show thought about the matter under discussion

Restates other's point of view before seriously disagreeing with it

Supportive of other students (not necessarily their opinions) during discussion


Leads discussion away from the point or subject at hand

Dominates discussion time

Interrupts other students before they have finished their thoughts

Tells personal anecdotes which have no relation to the subject or text

Disruptive body language and/or sidetalking when others speak



Reflects assignment

Shows evidence of thoughtful engagement with text or assignment

Accurately attributes ideas and quotations

Acknowledges all other help

Legible, on 8 1/2" by 11" size paper, meets word minimum without padding

In on or before due date


Consists only of generalizations, without evidence from text

Recounts personal anecdotes which do not explain text authors' points

Simply restates text authors' points or words, without any analysis or comment (unless writer is consciously working on learning to summarize)

Does not reflect assignment

Does not accurately acknowledge sources and other help


Yes, even at TESC some critical writing is better than other critical writing, at least in this program. You could think of this hierarchy in terms of points (not unlike grades):

0: Paper simply summarizes the reading, or does more but with many mechanical errors. No or limited attribution.

1: Paper author read the material, wrote down a summary and personal reactions, or did more but with many mechanical errors. Or a "3" paper with no or limited attribution.

2: Paper focuses on and develops one idea, observation or conclusion. Author didn't present a strong case, but worked at it. Minimum of mechanical errors. Quotes and ideas attributed.

3: Paper author successfully identified one idea, observation or conclusion and developed an argument in support of it in clear prose with a minimum of mechanical errors. Quotes and ideas attributed.

* Many of the ideas in the "Participation" section of this handout came from an evaluation form used by the TESC Reservation-Based Program in Winter, 1996.

The Search for a Usable Past 1997-1998, Fall Quarter
syllabusupfq EVII 9-9-97