21G.221 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

Communicating in American Culture(s)

Topics to Guide Reading and Discussion

Geography, History, and American Communication Patterns

Part I

Study the materials and prepare to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions:

  1. As you read the first section of Gonick (pp. 1–77), consider the following questions:
    • What was the role of geography in the development of colonial America?
    • Why did people come to colonial America from other countries? How did the reasons change over time?
  2. In the Introduction to American Nations (pp. 1–19), Woodard claims “There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas”? What does he mean?
    • How does Woodard define “nation” and “state”? Why does he claim that Americans are confused about the definitions of these terms?
    • Analyze the map of American Nations. What strikes you about the distribution of the “nations”? How does Woodard explain the distribution? 
    • Woodard’s introduction focuses mostly on the class, religion, and attitudes of the original settlers of different parts of the US. Speculate about how geography shapes the different regions.
    • Americans have the reputation of being innovative—members of a “can do” society. After reading Gonick and Woodard, how would you argue that the history and geography of the US have predisposed the country to innovation?

Written Response #3: Speculate about how the colonial period in American history may have shaped the national communication norms.

Part II

Study the materials and prepare to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions:

  1. Miller argues that America’s physical location explains the way Americans see the world.
    • What does he mean?
    • What three major cultural features comprise the core of his argument?
  2. The Pew Research Center infographic display summarizes five key cultural differences between the US and European countries.
    • How have the recent readings on geography and history—Gonick, Woodard, and Miller—contributed to your understanding of how American values have been formed?

Part III

Study the materials and prepare to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions:

In our second Gonick reading, he covers the ‘‘New Nation," Expansion & Reform (pp. 93–179). To what extent was the American Revolution a revolt against taxes?

  • How does the Declaration of Independence form the foundation of the American government and identity? What is the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation? How did the early Supreme Court portray the division of power between the federal and state governments?
  • What role did compromise play in establishing the first political structures? Consider the language of the founding fathers and the reality of the 18th century.
  • How did political parties take shape? Compare the political visions of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Jackson. Can you hear/see any echoes of these visions in current political discourse?
  • What features of American culture does the Monroe Doctrine reflect?

Written Response #4: Provide your reaction to Gonick’s cartoon history as a source of information compared to the more conventional materials you have studied in connection to geography and history in 21G.221 and elsewhere. Use concrete evidence from Gonick and the other materials to support your response. Consider questions such as the following. What aspects of American history were you most familiar with before reading these materials? What aspects of American history surprise you? Is the Cartoon History an effective way to improve understanding of American culture(s)? Why or why not? How do the cartoons add or detract from the historical content?

Part IV

Study the materials and be prepared to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions:

  1. As you read the last part of Gonick—“Modern Times” (pp. 275–377)—consider the following questions: 
    • Define the term “progressive” and give one or more examples of a “progressive” president of the US. Defend your choice(s).
    • What different perspectives shaped US policies leading up to and entering WWI and WWII?
    • How have racial attitudes in the US shaped regional demographics since the country’s founding?
    • How did the following shape US culture, including language: the Cold War; the Civil Rights Movement; the Vietnam War; and the Women’s Movement?
  2. In “One nation, divisible,” Jouet introduces the central thesis of his book Exceptional America: What Separates Americans from the World and from Each Other.
    • What are some of the ways he portrays America (and, by extension, Americans) as “exceptional” in comparison with other developed democracies?
    • How does his perspective of “exceptionalism” differ from that of many Americans?
    • What are some of the fundamental values that polarize Americans?

Written Response #5: Jouet was brought up and educated outside of the United States, but he now works in American higher education. What advantages do you think his biculturalism/bilingualism brings to his analysis of the US?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019