What is American identity? Or, perhaps more accurately, what are American identities and how have they been shaped by immigration, internal migration, and place? Our program explores these questions over time and across ethnic groups, regions, and cultures. We consider both voluntary and involuntary migrations, fraught with episodes of pain, suffering, the sense of loss, and nostalgia, but also characterized by individual and group resilience--and all of this analyzed as history, woven into story, and remembered in song.
These migrations include the transatlantic slave trade, the waves of millions of European immigrants (Irish, Scandinavians, Slavs, Jews), the seasonal movements of farmworkers, the forced removal of Native Americans to reservations, the move of women from farm to factory, and more. Our premise is that all of these have contributed to the formation of American identities, and one of our goals is to understand how, specifically by analyzing the ways in which identity has been both acquired and constructed. We disentangle complicated webs of identity-making from multiple perspectives and examine the contemporary impulse that has inspired the search for roots through genealogical research, heritage tourism, and DNA testing. Using stories, music, film, food, folklore, and scholarly accounts, we interrogate race, class, and gender in multiple configurations. Probable readings include historical analyses of race, ethnicity, and immigration by Barbara Fields, Thomas Holt, and Douglas Baynton, as well as memoirs of immigrants and their children.
Assignments will include tracing local ethnographies, developing both creative and scholarly works based on oral histories and other primary sources, and sharing our research in presentations. We will take a fieldtrip to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, and visit with guest lecturers. Students will emerge with tools that facilitate a deeper and more nuanced understanding of American identities, as well as ways to challenge easy, totalizing narratives of a simplistic American identity. This program is designed for students interested in upper-division critical thinking in historical and cultural studies.