GMU HIST 523 American History Digitized: Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?
Lead Teacher: Thomas Rushford
The United States has always been a diverse society, composed of people from many cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Yet too often the study of American history and literature has not done justice to this diversity, or faced honestly the conflicts and challenges that it presents. Today, more than ever, all of us need to expand our understanding of cultural differences and gain new skills in cross-cultural communication. In the context of a society shaped by intersecting categories–that is, race, class, gender, sexuality, and so on–the dominant logic is to celebrate multicultural differences without explaining how and why those differences came to be.
This course is a critical examination of the social categories of difference and diversity in the United States. We will explore the nature and content of race and gender, two representative categories of difference. Are “race” and “gender” biological categories that we are born with? Are they identities that we “learn”? How have definitions and understandings of “race” and “gender” changed over the past few decades? How do other social categories such as socioeconomic class and sexuality affect our understandings and experiences of race and gender? After examining the nature and content of “race” and “gender,” we will then explore how these definitions inform and influence educational choices in the classroom.