SPR18 485-01

Riis1890I Scrubs, Little Katie from the W. 52nd Street Industrial School (since moved to W. 53rd Street).

HUM 485-01/ AMST 310-01 The Arts and American Culture
SPR 2018
T 5.10-7.55 in Hum 408
Sean Connelly
Contact: connelly@sfsu.edu
Office location/ hours: in Hum 219 on T/Th 12.30-1.30 and by appt.

Prerequisite: Upper division standing. First and second year students need instructor permission to enroll. 

The Project

HUM485/AMST310 examines specific genres, artists, and texts in 20th century US American culture in order to think about the ways that national identity, history, and ideology are represented and revised by expressive forms.

An endeavor this wide-ranging is undertaken most effectively within limits, and so we will study our subject through a dark lens, one informed by the gothic mode.

Such a critical-imaginative stance necessarily emphasizes the haunted and haunting character of US American culture and history. The ghosts of the national past persist into the present, from the structural violence of social inequality to the destructive power of imperialism. In this sense, the most commonly celebrated aspects of the USA–  freedom, opportunity, and affluence– necessarily summon their opposites. After all, in addition to the undeniable influence of philosophical principles and common law precedents derived from a European tradition, the nation was founded on bonded labor and by the dispossession of the land’s inhabitants.

Our primary objects of study will be the novel and film, though we will also analyze various examples of photography, painting, and popular music. Beginning in San Francisco at the turn into the 20th century with a naturalist novel about degeneration, we will travel across time and space to great cities and hamlets, encountering greenhorns and guerrillas, financiers and the children of Freedmen.

Learning Outcomes

Students who do the work will complete the course with a solid foundation in the formal analysis of literature and film, a general knowledge of US history, and a toolkit of theoretical concepts with which to explore the relationship between culture and ideology.


Basic Etiquette

ARRIVE ON TIME,  work completed, with a hard copy of the assigned text. All homework assignments should be typed and include name/date/course.

Electronic devices

On its own, a cell phone is not an adequate tool with which to pursue a college education. The course blog, for example, is best viewed on a computer. Unless I specifically request it, no electronic devices should be used during class.

Intellectual Honesty

CHEATING of any kind is pernicious because it  DESTROYS TRUST between teacher and student. If you can’t trust your teacher, then you deserve a new one. If you can’t trust your students, etc.

As a general rule any ideas/words that are not your own should be cited. Yet intellectual honesty encompasses more than actively avoiding plagiarism. For example, reading a wikipedia entry rather than an assigned novel or allowing others to do your work for you are examples of cheating.

See http://www.sfsu.edu/~vpsa/judicial/titlev.html


If there’s anything I should know about you as a student, please talk to me RIGHT AWAY and I’ll do my best to help. The DPRC is located in the Student Service Building and can be reached by telephone (voice/TTY 415-338-2472) or by email dprc@sfsu.edu).

Other resources

The SAFE Place – (415) 338-2208; http://www.sfsu.edu/~safe_plc/

Counseling and Psychological Services Center – (415) 338-2208; http://psyservs.sfsu.edu/

Additional information on rights and available resources: http://titleix.sfsu.edu


The Work: Grading Rubric

5-6 page Essay 15% (Write an informed and incisive academic essay on ONE of the 4 novels assigned for this course. You MUST use key terms drawn from Abbott’s Introduction to Narrative in a thoughtful and germane manner. Due dates: Vandover and Brute [2/20], Manhattan Transfer [3/27], The Sorrow of War [5/1], Paradise [5/15]. Further details forthcoming.)

Class Work 25% (class participation, attendance, in-class work)

Midterm 20% (Short responses to key terms) 3/13

Film Analysis Presentation 20% 5/8, 5/15

Final Exam 20% (Short responses to key terms) 5/15

Students are expected to complete the assigned readings, think about what they read, and actively participate in class discussion. Late work will not be accepted.


Required Texts

Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War 978-1573225434

John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer 978-0618381869

Toni Morrison, Paradise 978-0804169882

Frank Norris, Vandover and the Brute 978-1554812394

Sarah Weinman (ed.), Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives 978-0143122548

H. Porter Abbott, Introduction to Narrative 978-0521715157


*recommended but not required

Baldick, “Introduction” from Oxford Book of Gothic Tales: BaldickGothic

Baraka, “Dope”: Dope

Crow, “American Gothic”: EncGothCrowAmGot

Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (excerpt): FiedlerGothic

Freud, The Uncanny: freud1

Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto (excerpt): ManifestoSec1

Norris, A Plea for Romantic Fiction: Plea4RomFic

*Weinstock, “Introduction: The American Gothic”: CambCompAmGoth

Williams, “Dominant, Residual, Emergent”: WmsDRE



Notes on Reading

BUY HARD COPIES of the right books! Reading is an active, not a passive, pursuit. Read with a pencil and a dictionary. Flag significant/ difficult passages. Always look for patterns. Talk about what you read.

Film Noir Festival: https://analepsis.org/2018/01/06/fnf-2018-303-485/


Nightmare Alley (1/23);  Dark City (2/20); Ravenous or Jacob’s Ladder (4/10); Shutter Island (5/1); various clips.


Genthe, Riis, Steichen, WeeGee, Gutman, Strand, Witgen

Detroit Photographic Company (kw: WA Photos 121)


Week ONE: 1/23

Course introduction. Complete questionnaire. Baraka, “Dope.

Screen: Nightmare Alley (Goulding 1947)


Week TWO: 1/30

Due: Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto (sec. 1); Abbott, Introduction to Narrative (Chs. 1-3); Norris, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction”; Balidick, “Introduction”

Screen:  “Rosie”; “Ain’t No Grave”; “Devil Got My Woman”; All That is Solid Melts Into Air


Week THREE: 2/6

Due: Norris, Vandover and the Brute; Abbott, Introduction to Narrative (Chs. 4-6); Crow, “American Gothic”

Screen: A Deal in the Wheat (Griffith ); Colter Wall, “Kate McCannon


Week FOUR: 2/13

Due: Norris, Vandover and the Brute (complete, including all appendices)

Screen: The Cramps, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”

The Wolfman (2009) The Wolfman (1941) I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1990) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)


Week FIVE: 2/20

Due: Abbott, Introduction to Narrative (Chs. 7-8); “Urban Gothic”; start Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

Vandover and the Brute Essay Due

Screen: Dark City (Proyas 1998)


Week SIX: 2/27

Due: Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (most if not all of it)

Screen: TBA


Week SEVEN: 3/6

Due: Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (complete)

Screen: TBA


Week EIGHT: 3/13




Week TEN: 3/27

Due: Weinman, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

Screen: Laura, In a Lonely Place, The Big Combo, Black Widow, Whirlpool

Manhattan Transfer Essay Due


Week ELEVEN: 4/3

Due: Weinman, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

Screen: TBA


Week TWELVE: 4/10

Due: Bao, The Sorrow of War

Screen: Ravenous (Byrd 1999) OR Jacob’s Ladder (Lyne 1990)


Week THIRTEEN: 4/17

Due: Bao, The Sorrow of War


Week FOURTEEN: 4/24

Due: Morrison, Paradise


Week FIFTEEN: 5/1

Due: Morrison, Paradise

The Sorrow of War Essay Due

Screen: Shutter Island (Scorsese 2010)


Week SIXTEEN: 5/8

Film Presentations 


Week SEVENTEEN: 5/15

Film Presentations 


Paradise Essay Due