AmCon 101: Declaring Independence: 1607-1865
First Year, Semester I
Amcon 101, “Declaring Independence,” takes students back to the origins of American history and culture from the earliest British colonies to America’s appearance on the world stage as what Thomas Jefferson called the “Empire of Liberty.” By looking into historical events and cultural myths, we ask some of the central questions of the American Conversations program: “What is an American?” and “What does mean to be free or independent, both in the past and in the present”?
We examine the origins of American independence and other ideals as they informed American literature, art and architecture. We also ask how it was that African-American slavery could take hold in a nation so proudly commitment to freedom. The class traces how Native American identity was constructed through myths such as the story of Pocahontas and the first Thanksgiving, and consider the implications of those enduring myths. We also consider how American citizenship was transformed by technologies such as the newspaper, and we explore citizenship in the first of several hands-on civic engagement projects that will span the AmCon experience.
AmCon 102: Democratic Vistas, 1800-1900
First Year, Semester II
Amcon 102, “Democratic Vistas,” focuses on America in the nineteenth century, an era characterized both by America’s geographic expansion from East to West and by the conflict over slavery that divided the North and South. As the course title indicates, this was a time in which writers such as Tocqueville and Whitman celebrated the triumph of American democracy. But it was also a time when slavery was expanded – often in the name of so-called democratic ideals such as “popular sovereignty.”
America’s vistas expanded westward, opening up opportunities for countless migrants and immigrants, but at the expense of Native Americans forced off their ancestral lands. In this course, students weigh America’s ideal of individual rights, as well as and the belief in the power of social and moral reform against its gravest sins – slavery and Indian removal. Topics range from the art and literature of the Transcendentalist movement to the creation of utopian societies to the Civil War and the closing of the American frontier.
AmCon 201: Re-making America, 1865-1945
Sophomore Year, Semester I
Students return to Amcon in the fall of their second year to discover an America transformed by technology, capitalism, immigration and African-American migration to Northern cities. “Remaking America” focuses on the period between the Civil War and World War II, when cities like Chicago grew at an unprecedented rate and new communities of Americans sought opportunity there.
Industrialization and the market economy offered both promise for improving everyday life and numerous challenges, particularly regarding the safety and security of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. In this course, we study the countless ways in which America transformed – from workplaces to leisure activities such as Vaudeville and movies. And we consider the ways in which American identity as a whole was transformed by the cultural contributions of African-Americans, Eastern and Southern European immigrants, and Asian immigrants.
AmCon 202: Pursuits of Happiness, 1920-Present
Sophomore Year, Semester II
Amcon 202 examines the many ways Americans in the 20th and 21st centuries have interpreted a version of Jefferson’s famous phrase, “Pursuit of Happiness.”
With ever more technological innovations and consumer products at their disposal, some interpreted the American dream in material terms. Others pursued a happiness that could only come by securing access to the rights and liberties that Americans believed they had fought for in World War II and after – equal rights for all American regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. At the same time, such pursuits of happiness took place against the backdrop of increasing fear – of communism, terrorism, economic insecurity, social change, and technological transformation. And all of these struggles played out in a new environment of mass media – television, popular music, and the internet.
In the final course in the AmCon sequence, we ask: What kind of America have we inherited? What kind of America do we want to create?