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Understanding America

November 11, 1999

Midterm Examination

American Studies can be a variety of different meanings to a lot of different authors. They are all pretty much on the same note, but with different alterations. For me, I believe that it is to make connections between the past and how it will impact the future. American Studies has transformed overtime. Each individual has their own beliefs and feelings of what it really means. In Gene Wise’s article he states how he is interested in how the field of American Studies has transformed overtime, what American Studies methodology is, and the types of questions that American Studies practitioners ask. I believe that there is no one way to understand America. For Gene, he begins to understand America by looking into the past. On the other hand, there was also the Linda Kerber essay that we had also read at the beginning of the semester. Kerber was saying in her article that there was something that was wrong with the myth and symbolist methodology. She also talked about how there are new approaches and diversity in the field and how it has altered the ways that American Studies practitioners write, teach, and learn. What interested me most in her article is how American Studies was quicker to welcome women and ethnic studies. I believe the answer to this is simply that the women represent a larger group and they are more out spoken. Kerber also saw a great deal of chauvinism with the myth symbolist methodology, as well as this certain approach not looking for structures of power. She looked at points from all different sorts of angles and would then analyze them. Kerber would always have a valid answer and would really go into great detail in her article so that it was easy to pick up the information. These two articles were very much related, but at the same time they were very different.

This leads into the past and current methodological approaches in studying American culture and what different authors have to say.

“The methodology of early American Studies practitioners in the 30s, 40s, and 50s was named the symbol myth school approach. They came up with a set of assumptions that would guide those working in the field.

1. There is one homogenous mind

2. The American mind is distinguished by its place in the New World-

which makes Americans idealistic, individualist, and pragmatic

Europeans by contrast, were tragic in temper and corrupted by old

world assumptions

3. The American mind can be found in anyone American, and it’s expressed

by those who write the high literature gene, such as Whitman, Twain...

4. The American mind is influenced by movements that run through our past

Pragmatition, Transcendentalism, and Liberation

5. Popular culture is legit image to study, but the whole of American is best revealed in “high literature.”” (Gene Wise)

Again, looking at the other side of the situation, there is Linda Kerber’s point of view. She suggests that something is wrong with the myth symbolist methodology. Kerber says that their approach did not look for structures of power. What she can now detect is that there is a bunch of chauvinism. She does in fact let them off the hook for being good writers.

Culture resides in all learned behavior and in some shaping template or consciousness prior to behavior as well. There are many different cultures. Every country has there own style of living and rituals that they are apart of. Relating culture back into the materials that were to be read for this class, there was a lot of diversity.

According to Jacobson, the history of European immigration to America is based on ethnic inclusion, mobility, and assimilation. He is interested in how the Irish, Jews, Polish, Greeks, Italians, Finns, Syrian and Ruthenians became white. It was said that race at different historical moments were perceived differently for different groups. I believe that this is true for the past, present, and possibly even for the future. All races and cultures were singled out if they were not perceived to be “white.”

I strongly believe that people should not be judged on appearance. It is true that everyone sees one from the outside, but it is what is on the inside that is important. It is almost that people don’t know any better, because this is the way which they were brought up. When someone is brought up in a certain manner they do not always know what is necessarily right or what is wrong. Jacobson believes that it is important to study the history of Euro-ethnic groups in the U.S., because people should not be able to look at different races and cultures. There is a power struggle between the races to take control over economics, cultural and political resources.

In the Jacobson book a large part that caught my eye was, how the ideas of race changed throughout the years. There was a historical shift from racializing European ethnic groups to using color to determine race. I think that this is still going on today. If you would walk into any middle school, you would most likely see kids separated by color. You would see the White kids, the African American, Oriental kids, and then the rest of the “minorities” as it is said to be. This is how a lot of children grow up. It is very sad, but also very true. These children may grow up in a house that has a little bit of prejudice for one reason or another, or maybe for no reason at all. If you grow up a certain way you do not know any better. For example: if you grow up having your parents beating you, than you may think that is okay until one day when you go to your friend’s house and see how loving their family is. Only then will you realize when something is not going right.

Another book that we had to read was, Women Race & Class, by Angela Y. Davis. This book was a very powerful book about women’s rights. Davis begins her

book by talking about slavery. She starts off this way to point out the roots of women’s movements. I believe that her purpose was that she was interested in looking at the intersection of gender, race, and class. There is a big difference between those three categories. Gender, is a person’s role in society. This refers to whether that one person is masculine or feminine. There are different traits that go along with both of those genders. For instance: people look at what both boys and girls wear, how they walk, talk, what their interests are, etc.. Race, is the social construction and categorized groups based on biological things. For the last category, there is class which is a categorized group primarily based on a hierarchy.

Davis does some talking on slavery in her book. I can not believe how these women were treated. I knew that slavery was something so awful, but I never really knew or understood about it entirely. These people did not have official identity other than the fact that they were slaves and that is how they were treated. They were treated as if they weren’t even humans. I have always thought of everyone to be equal. I have been treated differently because I am a Jewish girl. I have been treated differently by students and most of all by teachers in high school and even some in college. It is something that is very difficult and frustrating to deal with. I know that what I experienced does not even compare, but I do know what it feels like to be picked on. It does not matter if you are: White, African American, Oriental, Mexican, Indian, etc. What does matter is what is one the inside. It is in my opinion that no one should judge a person by what they may look like from the outside or what race they happen to be, look inside of that individual and then you will really find what is inside of that person.

These women only had power because of their husbands and where they were at. If it was not for the husbands than of the women would not be where they were. It is a

good thing for the Women’s rights Movement. Otherwise, I believe that most women would not even be able to vote or have any of the rights that they have today.

My favorite book that we had to read for Understanding America was Robert Bogdan’s Freakshow. This book was bout “freaks” and “freakshows.” There are many different distinctions that can be made about these two titles. Freakshows were a type of amusement or entertainment that people used to go and view all of the time. Freaks is someone who has oddities or who are just strange people. The freaks only form of making a living was not just putting on freakshows. They would also have their pictures taken by a photographer and sell them for money. Freakshows started being exhibited in the halls and room and were taken under the wings of the museums.

I believe that in the past, people were very interested in going to freakshows because they were so entertaining. Some people actually believed that these people were real and that their rarities that the “freaks” had were real and not fake. Even if the people knew that they were fake they would still attend these activities just for the laughs. Today, when there is this type of show all of the audience knows that these people are “done up” just to entertain a crowd.

I do not think that it is a bad thing to go up on stage and perform a certain act and get paid for it. I would disagree if the people who were going up on stage were making fun of other’s handicaps. I also do not think that this is much of a problem know, because there are so many disability acts and rights. Everyone should respect everyone else even if they happen to be a little different.

In conclusion, I have learned a tremendous amount about the history of America and what people had gone through. It is a shame that so many different races had to almost be looked down, or looked at differently just because of the way that they looked

on the outside. Everyone is equal and are capable of the same thing. Some people achieve higher things than others in some instance but it does not mean that they are less capable of understanding what is going on around them. People happen to show their skills and knowledge in different ways. One should not be judged just because they can not perform or because they are women or even if they are handicap. If a person believes that they can succeed than everyone else need to believe in that person and they will strive to the highest point on the mountain.

Word Count: 1848

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