AMST 391
American Portraits Spring 2015
Division II Writing Skills Exploring Diversity Initiative
Cross-listed AMST 391 / ENGL 391
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

We’ve all seen pictures of ourselves that we thought got it right, and others we’ve rejected as wrong. What exactly makes the difference? This class will weigh the powers of words and pictures to represent persons, asking how artists in each medium try to define and convey something that feels like the truth of character. Is that truth hidden deep in our souls? Or is it the case that what you see, moment to moment, is all there is? We’ll think through these aesthetic and psychological questions with a range of (mostly) nineteenth-century texts and an array of visual media. We’ll see, too, how portraits confer or deny political and social power. Our texts will give us examples of the deadly male gaze (Poe), the mania for phrenology, the potential for daguerreotypes to reveal a villainous heart (Hawthorne), the existential and political consequences of passing (Larsen), the possibility that you are what you wear (James), and the promise of fingerprinting to prove who’s who (Twain). These instances of fixing or manipulating identity will show us how slippery and how potent the concept of identity has been — and still is — in American culture. The class will participate in the college’s Exploring Diversity Initiative by encouraging students to be critically aware of the stakes and the consequences of one’s visibility or invisibility, to explore the intertwined history of misperception and subversive camouflage, and to reflect on the uses of different versions of selfhood.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3721
Grading: OPG
Requirements/Evaluation: essays (4 or 5) totaling 20 pages across the semester
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: a 100-level English course, or a score of 5 on the AP Exam in English Literature or a 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate
Enrollment Preferences: English majors & American studies majors
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills Exploring Diversity Initiative
Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AMST
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
AMST 391 Division II ENGL 391 Division I
Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives
ENGL Literary Histories B

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