Amcon 102 Themes

kindred spiritsImagining Nature in Art and Literature

Americans long viewed their landscape as a wilderness in contrast to that of Europe, but in the 19th century, writers and artists rediscovered “Nature” as something altogether more sublime, transcendent, and inspiring. In this unit, students, explore the landscape painting of the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain schools of art and consider these works alongside literary works by classic American authors like Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. In doing so, they discover how literary and artistic analysis provide crucial clues to evolution of the very meaning of nature, laying a foundation for the later creation of America’s national parks.

Utopian Communities Projectnew harmony

The spirit of reform, individualism, and freedom of conscience was alive and well in the American nineteenth century. The prospect of land in the West made it possible for groups of like-minded Americans to create “intentional communities” where they could live out their moral, philosophical and religious ideals free from the structures of mainstream society. For this project, students research one of an array of intentional communities – religious communities such as the Shakers and Hutterites as well as social reform communities such as Brook Farm and New Harmony – and analyze the motivations and commitments of people who chose to live apart.


Frederick Douglass and American Abolitionismdouglass

In 1830, the idea of abolishing slavery in the United States was held only by a minority of Americans, but by 1860, it was a powerful movement made up of thousands of black and white men and women willing to risk their lives and fortunes for this cause. This unit explores the process of this profound change and focuses, in particular, on the role of one brilliant abolitionist writer, Frederick Douglass, to communicate the ideological, physical, and psychological chains of American Slavery. Students encounter numerous voices arguing both against and in defense of African-American slavery, from William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator to Douglass’s “What to the Negro is the Fourth of July?” and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slave.


civil warVoices and Images of the Civil War

In Amcon, students explore the Civil War by immersing themselves in its voices and images, focusing particularly on how the war was experienced and represented by participants and witnesses. Over a series of classes, students read speeches and documents of the politicians who set the war in motion as well as letters of the soldiers who fought. They analyze the complex meanings conveyed by Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry as well as those communicated by the new medium of battlefield photography. Finally, they consider the historical implications of the failure of the federal government to protect the rights of free African-Americans during and especially after Reconstruction.