American Studies A302 – The Question of American Community

Spring 2011

Section 23689 Tuesday/Thursday 12-1:15 ES 0016

Tom Marvin

Office: Cavanaugh 501J / Hours: TR 9:30-11:30 and by appointment.

Phone & Voice Mail: 274-9844 / Fax: 278-1287

E-mail address:

Are American communities in crisis, or are they just adapting to changing times? In this seminar we will explore the myths and realities of American communities from colonial New England to the contemporary suburb. We will consider the social, historical, political, and economic forces that shape communities and apply what we learn to Indianapolis. Students will have the chance to get more involved in their communities by completing service-learning projects and community-based research. All of our activities are designed to promote what Catherine Walsh calls “critical literacy.” According to Walsh, “Critical literacy should relate to the contexts of learner’s lives, be interesting, purposeful, engaging, incite dialogue and struggle around meanings, interpretations, and identities and promote among learners a critical understanding of their relationship to a broader society and of their and its political nature and transformative possibilities.”

An Honors Option is available (see additional requirements below).

OBJECTIVES: This course is designed to help students achieve the goals outlined in IUPUI’s Principles of Undergraduate Learning with special emphasis on Understanding Society and Culture. Assigned readings and primary research will help students see how social and cultural forces shape American communities and increase their awareness of cultural diversity and the multiplicity of viewpoints that converge in an urban environment. Student achievement will be assessed based on forum postings, oral presentations, community engagement journals, and a final paper.

REQUIREMENTS: Class sessions will rely on active student participation, so thorough preparation is essential to your success. To help you prepare, and to get the conversation underway before we meet in class, you will record your reactions to each week’s reading in a forum posting on oncourse. At least twice during the semester each student will serve as a discussion leader by posting two quotes from the text, your reasons for choosing each quote, and two questions to spark discussion, by noon on Sunday. Students pursuing the honors option will serve as discussion leaders four times and write longer forum posts. Those who are not leaders must post a response to at least one of the quotes by 1:30 p.m. the day we begin discussing it in class. Refer to the detailed forum guidelines in resources on oncourse. Your class preparation will be self-graded on the honor system, but given our emphasis on discussion, everyone’s level of preparation will soon become apparent. The self-evaluation of weekly preparation will contribute 30% toward your final grade.

The COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT PROJECT will take you beyond the classroom into a local community to see how the ideas we talk about in class play out in the real world. There are two basic types of project, and you’ll need to decide which one is right for you and identify a community group to engage with during the first three weeks of the semester. The CEP is worth 30%.

Service learning: If you decide to do a service-learning project, you will work with a community organization and reflect on how the experience has contributed to your understanding of American communities and course themes. I will provide a list of service-learning opportunities, but you may also arrange to work with another community organization with my prior approval. The project will begin with a contract, signed by you and by your supervisor at the organization and due on February 1. The contract will specify your work hours (usually 3-4 per week for 8-10 weeks) and the specific duties you will perform. These duties must be directly related to the mission of the organization and the goals of this class. Routine office work (typing, filing, etc.) is not appropriate for a service-learning project. You will complete two service journals (10% each), due March 8 and April 12, which link your service experiences with course themes and issues. Service journals should be a minimum of 500 words, but more information is welcome. The last weekof the semester, you will give a brief oral report (20%) to the class on how your experience relates to the course. A final reflective paper (5-7 pages, worth 60%) will summarize what you have learned about American communities by completing the service-learning project. Guidelines for these assignments are available in the service-learning folder, under resources, in oncourse.

Ethnography of a Community Group: If you elect to do an ethnography, you will observe, describe, and analyze a community group by attending its meetings and events and interviewing some of its members. I will provide a list of suitable groups, but you may also arrange to work with another community organization with my prior approval. The project will begin with a proposal identifying the group and your preliminary research questions, due on February 1. You will complete two ethnography journals (10% each), due March 8 and April 12, summarizing the notes you’ve taken and tracking the evolution of your research questions. Ethnography journals should be a minimum of 500 words, but more information is welcome. The last week of the semester, you will give a brief oral report (20%) to the class on how your findings relate to course themes. The final ethnography (5-7 pages, worth 60%) will provide answers for your research questions based on your observations and interviews. Guidelines for these assignments are available in the ethnography folder, under resources, in oncourse.

Report on an intentional community: You will conduct independent research on an intentional community, analyze its success or failure using the methodology outlined in Kanter’s Commitment and Community, and present your results to the class the week of March 1. Students pursuing the honors option will also write a five-to-seven-page paper summarizing the results of their research, due the last week of class. The report will be worth 20% of your final grade.

Your grade for class participation will depend more on the quality of your contribution to our discussions than on the frequency of your comments. I'm looking for concise, relevant comments and the ability to make connections between different course materials. Participation will be worth 20% of your final grade.

CIVILITY: It is impossible to discuss American society without addressing controversial topics that arouse strong emotions. In order for us to have meaningful discussions, we need to treat each other with respect, listen attentively, and exchange ideas, not insults. I expect students to question my opinions and be willing to question their own.

COMMUNICATION: The quickest way to get in touch with me is to send an e-mail to I check my e-mail regularly during the week and occasionally on the weekends. I also use the course announcement feature of oncourse, so if you miss a class, check oncourse for schedule changes.

ATTENDANCE: Faithful attendance is vital to your success in this course. You should plan to attend every class meeting. However, since emergencies plague even the most diligent, students are permitted to miss three classes without penalty, no questions asked or excuses required. Each subsequent absence will cost you ten points off your participation grade regardless of the reason for your absence. Arriving late or leaving early will be counted as an absence. If you do miss a class, check the course announcement in oncourse for last minute schedule changes, assignments, etc. In the event of a snow emergency, check oncourse for notice of cancellation and any changes in the schedule.

A WARNING ABOUT PLAGIARISM: According to the Indiana University Bulletin: “Plagiarism is the offering of the work of someone else as one’s own. Honesty requires that any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged. Any student who fails to give credit for ideas or materials taken from another source is guilty of plagiarism.” For further information on plagiarism, refer to the IU Code of Student Ethics.

Because some students do not understand the nuances of plagiarism, you must complete an online tutorial and test, which can be found at <>. Once you have successfully completed the test, you will be able to print a confirmation certificate. You must turn in your confirmation certificate by Tuesday, January 25 in order to continue in the course.

A NOTE ON THE SCHEDULE: Rather than break the reading up into little pieces, I expect you to have read a week’s worth (100-150 pages) and completed your forum post when you come to class on Tuesday. We will continue our discussion of the week’s reading on Thursday, so although Thursdays are often not listed on the syllabus, we still have class!


The schedule is subject to change. If you miss a class, check oncourse for updates.


11 Introduction to the course and to the field of American Studies.

13 What are the issues facing American communities today?

Write a brief (250-500 word) response for class on Thursday.

18 Are American Communities in Decline – Or Just Changing?

Read: Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone” and Nicholas Lemann, “Kicking in Groups” in Resources>Required Readings on oncourse.

25 Family and Community in Colonial New England

Read: John Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, introduction – chapter five (2-99).

Plagiarism confirmation certificate due.


1 Is the New England Village our Model American Community?

Read: John Demos, A Little Commonwealth, chapter 5-end (100-190) and then read the two “Forewords” (vii—xxiv).

Service-learning contract or ethnography proposal due.

8 Can We Create a Perfect Community?

Read: Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective, chapters 1-4 (2-125).

15 What Factors Contribute to the Success or Failure of an Intentional Community?

Read: Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Commitment and Community chapters 5—end (126-269).

22 INDEPENDENT RESEARCH WEEK: Investigate an intentional community and analyze it using Kanter’s methodology.


1 Student reports on intentional communities.


No regular class meeting. Instead meet with me in CA 501J for a conference.


22 Race and Social Class in the Civil Rights Era

Read: Bebe Moore Campbell, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, chapters 1-33 (9-202).

29 Read: Bebe Moore Campbell, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, chapters 34-end (202-end).


5 Work and Community in a Nineteenth-Century Industrial Village

Read: Dimitra Doukas, Worked Over: The Corporate Sabotage of an American Community, Parts 1 &2 (1-- 90).

12 Competing Visions of Work and Community

Read: Dimitra Doukas, Worked Over, Part 3 and Appendix 1 (91—168).


19 Building the American Suburb and Dismantling the American Dream

Read and look at the photographs: Douglas McCulloh, Dream Street.

26 LAST WEEK – Student reports on the Community Engagement Project.

Final papers for the Community Engagement Project due on April 28.

Honors option: final paper on an intentional community due April 28.