English 321: 01 "American Masterpieces"

Frontier Literature of the West and Vietnam

Fall, 2003, MC 553, MWF 1:10 - 2 p.m.
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
MC 536
Phone: 796-3485
E-mail:  gtsmith@viterbo.edu
Office Hours: MW 4 - 5 p.m., Thursday 9 - 12 a.m.

Course Description:

        In this course we will explore the following themes as the appear in American Westerns and American Vietnam literature: (1) the definition of "frontier" and the role the frontier plays in shaping an American identity in literature, and how this identity extends to the Vietnam War and other global conflicts; (2) the distinction between the West as a place or landscape and the West as a symbol; (3) the mythic western hero and the roles he and she play in the formation of American values, and how those American values are re-configured in frontier literature; (4) the defining and re-defining of "masculinity" and "femininity" as those cultural terms are used in the movement west; (5) the different voices (discourse) in American Westerns and Vietnam literature; (6) the evolution of Western myths and the significance of those cultural myths today.


Required Texts:

Click here for a bibliography of supplemental texts on reserve in the library

             Click here for a comprehensive website on Western literature, history, and art

Objectives (Learner Outcomes)

The students will become familiar with the history of the literary conventions and themes of American Westerns and Vietnam literature. The students will connect the themes identified in Frontier Literature with the history of the American West and the history of the movement west, their personal experiences, and the experiences of others within their culture.  The students will demonstrate in writing and class discussions and individual presentations Core Abilities 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Requirements and Assessment: All of the criteria must be met to satisfy the requirement

"A" – Zero to three absences 

"B" – Three to five absences    "C" – Six to eight absences  "D" – Six to eight absences  Class Projects

Class Schedule:

Week One: August 26

Introduction to the American Western and Vietnam War Literature
Movie clip from "City Slickers"

Week Two: September 1 (Labor Day) Week Three: September 8 Week Four: September 15 Week Five: September 22  Week Six: September 29 Week Seven: October 6 Week Eight: October 13 (mid-semester break, October 17) Week Nine: October 20 Week Ten: October 27 Week Eleven: November 3 Week Twelve: November 10   Week Thirteen: November 17

Week Fourteen: November 24 (Thanksgiving November 27)

Week Fifteen: December 1 Week Sixteen: December 8 (Final Exam Week)

Final Exam--presentation of class projects

Class Projects
English 321 -- American Masterpieces, The Western
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

        Here are some suggestions for types of term projects. In selecting a topic, foremost in your consideration should be how interested you are in the topic and how much you will be able to learn from the research. Will you be able to use this project later in your academic career, or will it go into the round file at the end of the semester. The format is open; guidelines are few. The point of view may be personal or formal. If you use outside sources in your research I expect you to document those sources using the MLA style of documentation. If you plagiarize, you fail the assignment and possibly the course. A traditional term paper should be between eight and twelve pages, with one or two pages of documentation. I will ask to see a one-page prospectus of your project a month before finals week. You should also consider scheduling a conference with me to discuss your project. I will review the prospectus and offer constructive criticism of your topic and projected thesis.

If you are an English major, or if you enjoy doing interpretive or comparative studies, you may want to consider one of the following:

If you enjoy history or religion studies you may want to investigate one of the following: Gender issues are always fun. If you are interested in feminist readings of literature, consider what Annette Kolodny (The Land Before Her and The Lay of the Land) and others have to say about western women writers. Do you agree or disagree with Kolodny's thesis? Or defend how Nina Baym's thesis in "Melodramas of Beset Manhood" plays out in Western literature.

You may also want to look in more depth at some of the women writers of the West.

If you are an education major feel free to develop a lesson plan (covering a couple of weeks of study) on western themes: geography, environment, literature, history.  Click here for an excellent web site with a sample unit plan on images of the West.  Click here for a web site with a sample unit plan on myths of the West.

If you are an environmental studies minor (or a biology major) you could review the impact of population growth (including mining and forestry) on the national parks, the Missouri River (or any of the river systems), or the ecosystem in general. You could also explore any of the following:

If you are a music or dance major please consider a performance project. What was the music of the West? The dance of the West? What debt do we owe to Western performing artists? You may perform your research during finals week; however, you should also turn in a short paper discussing your research, methods, sources, and conclusions.  Click here for a web site on music from the Lewis and Clark Expedition

If you are an art major you may do either a research paper on Western art or you may do a creative piece and present that piece to the class with a discussion (and short written paper) of how the West influenced your work. I would be interested to learn how women are portrayed in Western American art, or how Native Americans are presented by certain Western artists.  Click here for a list of Albert Bierstadt's work

And many other general topics:

Buffalo Bill and the Wild West Show

Frederick Jackson Turner and the frontier thesis

Native American peoples, literature, and histories

Spanish explorations

The Indian Wars



Dime novels

Western agriculture


The Lewis and Clark expedition

The Great Plains

Theodore Roosevelt

Helpful "Western" Websites
The American West: A Celebration of the Human Spirit

People in the West

New Perspectives on the West   http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/wpages/wpgs000/w010_001.htm

American Indian Studies  http://www.csulb.edu/projects/ais/

West Web  http://scholar.library.csi.cuny.edu/westweb/