CH 203: American Experiences and Constitutional Change

University of Nevada, Reno    

Core Humanities 203:

         American Experiences and Constitutional Change                                 

J. Forsberg  |   Section 1004    |     Tue/Thurs 8:00-9:15AM    |      MSS 101

Images to Direct the American Narrative
Images to Direct the American Narrative

Course Description: What are American experiences? Though it is daunting to compress into a single semester over five hundred years of political and intellectual thought, culture, historical events, and art occurring within this section of the North American continent, the task is not without benefits. This course grants opportunities to better understand America through various critical lenses by reflecting on diverse aspects of American life, to compare and contrast disparate topics and writers, and to better understand American experiences past and present. We will use the included images to help us make conceptual leaps across time and space. Throughout the course, we will:

  • Consider major themes, concepts, and institutions relevant to American experiences as well as the cultural implications of artistic and technological innovations and scientific discoveries.
  • Improve as close readers of primary source texts, able to summarize, interpret, and evaluate these texts with additional consideration of their relevant contexts.
  • Improve as writers capable of furnishing a well-supported argument with a clear thesis, relevant claims, and a compelling use of evidence.
  • Participate in respectful discourse and debate with other members of the course, refining discussion and argumentation skills.
  • Cultivate awareness and appreciation of the diversity of values and practices underlying American cultural pluralism as well as the range of backgrounds and cultural legacies that give rise to it.
  • Analyze the philosophical, political, social, and institutional implications of the constitutional model reflected in the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Nevada.

Course Information:


Mrs. Jennifer Forsberg

  • Email: j.h.forsberg[at]
  • Office: FH 024
  • Office Phone: 775- 682-6391
  • Office Hours: Thursdays 12:00-1:30PM      by appointment
  • Mailbox in MSS 120 (notify me by email when you drop things off)

Required Texts:

  • Five Hundred Years: America in the World, ed. Casper and Davies. 5th Edition. ISBN: 0-536-20138-2
  • Classic American Autobiographies, Signet 1992. ISBN: 978-0-451-52915-2
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club: A Novel. ISBN-13: 978-0393327342
  • Supplements Available on Web Campus (print and bring in hard copy)

Course Tasks:

Attendance and Participation (15%): It is imperative that you are not only present, but also actively participating in our discussions. This means to earn points for being in class, you need to make a point to contribute to the conversation, group activities or writing workshops. In order to be prepared for class, be sure to keep up with the readings, be ready and willing to talk about textual evidence and have your texts in hard copy. Note: You are allowed 3 absences without penalty. Anything over 4 absences will result in a 1% deduction for each class missed, and 10 or more absences will forfeit all attendance and participation points (15% penalty).

An 8AM class requires special dedication. Be here on time and be awake. Tardiness disrupts everyone and habitual problems with lateness will result in participation deductions and/or marked absences.

Reading Responses (20% at 4% each): Five times throughout the semester you will submit a one-page reading response (about 250 words) that constructs an argument based on the materials we have read. One-week prior, I will post a topic on WebCampus that draws on one or more texts. Regardless of where your argument goes, your paper must follow MLA format, the argumentation structure provided and include textual evidence (and appropriate citations) to support your claims.

Midterms (20% at 10% each): You will take two midterms to mark your progress in the course. These exams will ask you to do two tasks: first, identify important texts and authors, and second, succinctly explain the significance of the passage or theme. Midterm one will cover weeks 1-6 and Midterm two will cover weeks 7-11. An absence on these days will result in a 0 for the exam.

Papers (30% at 10% and 20%): You will write two papers in the course of the semester. Paper 1 (3 pages) and Paper 2 (5 pages) will be an opportunity for you to deal with texts and topics in a more comprehensive and analytical way. Paper topics will be posted on WebCampus at the beginning of the semester so you may read and enter discussions with some direction in mind. These papers must be in MLA format and follow the argumentation structure provided.

Final Exam (15%): Your final exam will follow the format of midterms, but will include 1-2 short essay questions that ask you to think more comprehensively about the course. This exam will cover weeks 12-15 and you will be given the essay questions during the final review so you can prepare an answer.

Course Policies:

Late Work: All work must be ready to hand in at the start of class; if you are going to be absent, you may turn in your work ahead of time to one of my mailboxes (Core Humanities office or Frandsen Humanities). In general, late work will not be accepted. If you believe you have an extenuating circumstance, contact me as soon as possible.

Electronic Submissions: Unless otherwise stated, your work should always be submitted in hard copy in class. However, life happens: cars break down, you get sick and printers break. I will allow you to email 1 (one) assignment in case of non-serious-emergencies. This submission must arrive before class meets on the deadline and be in a MS Word format, the title reflecting your name and the assignment. You must deliver a hard copy of the same assignment by the next class meeting to earn full points. More than one submission will automatically incur a deduction of 10%.

Classroom Etiquette: Consider your enrollment in this course as your entry into a community of learners in which we strive to be more cooperative than competitive. Courteous disagreement in discussion and construction criticism on assignments is welcome, but inappropriate remarks and personal attacks will not be tolerated. During class, please keep all cell phones silent and refrain from using them (texting distracts everyone!) All other electronics should be kept off and stored away unless you have my permission to use them.

Academic Honesty: All work you submit must be your own and written during the course. According to UNR policies, plagiarism involves using the words, work, or thoughts of another without properly crediting that person. Plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty (e.g., willingly allowing someone to plagiarize you) will not be tolerated and may result in failure of the course with an “F” on your transcript. Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism—if you are unsure about citing a source, see me! For more information, visit this site:

Videotaping: Surreptitious or covert videotaping of class or unauthorized audio recording of class is prohibited by law and by Board of Regents policy. This class may be videotaped or audio recorded only with the written permission of the instructor. In order to accommodate students with disabilities, some students may have been given permission to record class lectures and discussions. Therefore, students should understand that their comments during class may be recorded.

Academic Success Services: Your student fees cover usage of the Tutoring Center and University Writing Center. These centers support your classroom learning; it is your responsibility to take advantage of their services. Keep in mind that seeking help outside of class is the sign of a responsible and successful student.

Tutoring Center: 775-784-6801

University Writing Center: 775-784-6030

Accommodations: UNR is committed to equal access and is in full compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). If you need any accommodations, please see me or contact the Disability Resource Center (Thompson Building, Suite 100) as soon as possible.

Grading Scale:

Please keep your work so you can calculate your grade at any given time. I will not post grades to WebCampus or provide calculations upon request.

A  100-94    A-  93-90     B+ 89-87     B  86-84     B-  83-80      C+ 79-77

C 76-74      C-  73-70      D+ 69-67     D 66-64     D- 63-60      F  59- or below

The Images:         If You See Something, Say Something

1. The Niña, The Pinta and the Santa María

2. Homeland Security: Native Americans

3. America’s Geographical Beacon

4. Below the Decks of a Slave Ship

5. $100 Bill (1969)

6. The Boston Tea Party

7. Django Unchained (2012)

8. Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea

9. You Have Died of Dysentery (1971)

10. Cast Down Your Bucket

11. Lady Liberty Stirs the Melting Pot (1910?)

12. Lange’s Migrant Mother  (1936) 

13. Rosie the Riveter (1942)

14. The Office (2005-2013)

15. Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963)

16. Trinity Atomic Bomb Testing (1945)

17. Taxi Driver (1976)

18. McDonalds in China

19. The Ramones Logo (1974)

20. Billie Holiday (1947)

 21. The Gadsen Flag (1775)


Reading Schedule:

All texts in 500 Years or Classic American Autobiographies unless denoted with a * for WebCampus Scan

All readings should be done in advance of class period scheduled.





Week 1—8/27Encounters with Early America, Early American Encounters Introduction to classReview SyllabusDiscuss Argument Structure, Assignments Image 1. The Niña, The Pinta and the Santa María: Read Christopher Columbus, from Letter to the Sovereigns on His First Voyage (1493) pages 4-8 and Bartolomé de las Casas, from The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies (1552) and The Coast of Pearls, Paria, and the Island of Trinidad pages 9-12 Image 2. Homeland Security: Read John Smith, from “The Chesapeake Indians” (1608) pages 13-14, Powhatan, “Speech to Captain John Smith” (1609) pages 15-16 and Luther Standing Bear, from Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933) pages 283-287
Week 2—9/3Colonizing America Image 3. America’s Geographical Beacon Part 1: Read John Winthrop, from “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630) pages 17-20, Anne Bradstreet, “The Prologue” (1650) and “Upon the Burning of Our House” (1666) pages 21-24 and Ronald Reagan, from “Farewell Address to the American People” (1989) pages 409-413 Image 3. America’s Geographical Beacon Part 2 Read: Rowlandson, A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson (1682) pages 26-69 (CAA)                                                         

                                                 RR1 Due

Week 3—9/10Colonizing America/Revolutionizing America Image 4. Below the Decks of a Slave Ship: Read Virginia General Assembly, from Acts Defining Slavery (1640-1680) pages 25-27, Venture Smith, from A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa (1798) pages 34-42 and George Fitzhugh from Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters (1857) pages 164-168 Image 5. $100 Bill: Read Benjamin Franklin, from “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c.” (1751) pages 43-48 and Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1771-89) pages 71-82, 99-104, 111-114, 133-141, 146-147 (CAA)                                                   RR2 Due
Week 4—9/17Breaking Chains and Growing Pains Image 6. The Boston Tea Party: Read Thomas Paine, from Common Sense (1776) pages 51-56, Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence (1776) pages 57-61, Elis Boudinot, Acts of Independence of the Mexican Empire (1821) and from “An Address to the Whites” (1826) pages 102-108 Image 7. Django Unchained: Part 1 Read Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) pages 230-238, 241-258, 262-268, 279-291, 316-321 (CAA) and Nat Turner, from The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) pages 119-123
Week 5—9/24Breaking Chains and Growing Pains Image 7. Django Unchained. Part 2 Read Francisco Bilbao, from La América en Peligro (1856) pages 145-148, Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America (1835) pages 112-118 and Abraham Lincoln, from Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and Gettysburg Address (1863) pages 170-173. NV Constitution in class. Image 8. Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea: Read Zitkala-Sa Autobiographical Narratives pages 433-462 (CAA), Helen Hunt Jackson, from A Century of Dishonor (1881) pages 188-192                                                    Paper 1 Due
Week 6—10/1Breaking Chains and Growing Pains  Image 9. You Have Died of Dysentery: Read John L. O’Sullivan, from “Annexation” (1845) pages 141-144, Russell H. Conwell, from “Acres of Diamonds” (1862) pages 178-180, Frederick Jackson Turner, from “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893) pages 184-187 and Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Grandfather of the Sierra Nevada Mountains” pages 183-197*



Midterm 1


  • Exam will cover content from weeks 1-6
  • Bring a blue book
Week 7—10/8The American Dream Image 10. Cast Down Your Bucket: Read Booker T. Washington, from Atlanta Exposition Speech (1895) pages 181-183, W.E.B. Dubois, from The Souls of Black Folk (1903) pages 237-241 and Maria W. Stewart, “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” (1832) pages 133-135  Image 11. Lady Liberty Stirs the Melting Pot: Read Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives (1890) pages 193-195, Abraham Cahan, “Imagined America” (1898) pages 196-199, Sui Sin Far, “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” (1910) pages 210-218, Edward W. Bok, from The Americanization of Edward Bok (1920) pages 219-224, Horace Kallen, from “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot” (1915) pages 231-236.                                          RR3 Due
Week 8—10/15The American Dream/ Working 9 to 5 Image 12. Lange’s Migrant Mother: Read Hector St. John de Crévecoeur, “What is an American?” from Letters of an American Farmer (1782) pages 69-74, John Steinbeck, from The Grapes of Wrath (1939) pages 293-298 and Woody Guthrie poems* Image 13. Rosie the Riveter: Read Women’s Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, NY, from Declaration of Sentiments (1848) pages 156-159, Sojourner Truth, from “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” (1851) pages 160-163, Catharine Beecher, from A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) pages 129-132, Beatrice M. Hinkle, “Women and the New Morality” (1930) pages 260-265, and Judith Sargent Murray, from “Equality of the Sexes” (1790) pages 92-95.
Week 9—10/22Working 9 to 5 Image 14. The Office: Part 1 Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Women and Economics (1900) pages 200-205, Workingmen’s Party, from Address of the Workingmen’s Party of Charlestown, Massachusetts (1840) pages 124-128 and Rodas, “The Smell of Fatigue”* Image 14. The Office: Part 2 Read Melville’s “Bartelby the Scrivner”* (or link)* and Charles Bukowski “the blade” and “spark”*                                                  RR4 Due
Week 10—10/29Working 9 to 5 Image 14. The Office: Part 3 read Fight Club (all)   

No Class: Attending Conference Out of State



Week 11—11/5The American Nightmare  Image 15. Leave it to Beaver: Read Franklin D. Roosevelt, from State of the Union Message (1944) pages 306-308, Ralph G. Martin, from “Life in the New Suburbia” (1950) pages 314-318, Betty Friedan, from The Feminine Mystique (1963) pages 335-342, Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, “Inventions Re-Making Leisure” from Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929) pages 255-259                           Midterm 2

  • Exam will cover content from weeks 7-11
  • Bring a blue book (you may use same book as Midterm 1)
Week 12—11/12The American Nightmare Image 16. Trinity Atomic Bomb Testing (1945): Read Ted Nakashima, from “Concentration Camp, U.S. Style” (1943) pages 303-305, Michael Harrington, from The Other America (1962) pages 332-334, Harry S. Truman, “On the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs,” from Memoirs (1955) pages 384-388 Image 17. Taxi Driver (1976): Read Sinclair Lewis, “Our Ideal Citizen” from Babbitt (1922) pages 251-254, Students for a Democratic Society, from Port Huron Statement (1962) pages 343-347 and Marilyn B. Young, from The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 (1991) pages 392-400               RR5 Due
Week 13—11/19The American Nightmare Image 18. McDonalds in China: Read Benjamin R. Barber, from Jihad vs. McWorld (1995) pages 414-419, George W. Bush, “Message to Congress and the American People” (2001) pages 420-425, Shafeeq Ghabra, “What Catastrophe Can Reveal” (2002) pages 426-429, and Robert Wright, “Two Years Later, a Thousand Years Ago” (2003) pages 429-433 Image 19. The Ramones Logo (1974): Read Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance” (1841) pages 136-140, Malcolm X, from “Message to the Grass Roots” (1965) pages 354-357, Armando B. Rendón, from Chicano Manifesto (1971) pages 368-369, and C. Wright Mills, from Listen, Yankee (1960) pages 401-402   


Week 14—11/26Revitalizing the Revolution Image 20. Billie Holiday (1947): Read Countee Cullen, “Heritage” (1925) pages 274-276, NPR article “The Strange Story of the Man Behind ‘Strange Fruit’”* Amiri Bakara “What Does Nonviolence Mean?”* pages 133-41, 143-5, 149-51, and “The Day Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara*                                                  Paper 2 Due



No Class: Holiday Break

Week 15—12/3Revitalizing the Revolution 21. The Gadsen Flag (1775): Read Henry David Thoreau, from “On Civil Disobedience” (1849) pages 149-155, Allen Ginsberg, from “Howl” (1956) pages 327-331, Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) pages 348-353, and Ishmael Reed, “America: The Multinational Society” (1988) pages 375-378

Final Exam Review

Week 16—12/10                      TBD  Instruction Ends: Finals WeekFinal Exam Meeting Time:Tuesday, 12/17 from 8-10:00AM