What Does it Mean to be an "American"? Colonial America to Present


Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 quarters

Taught by

education, history, political economy
law, literature, theatre
American history, information resources and library science

This introductory program examines how the meaning of “American” has changed historically and into our current era.  Specifically, we examine how the concept of “democracy” has been applied historically.  Democracy is a participatory form of government, yet many groups and individuals have not been allowed to participate fully in U.S. democratic systems since the beginning of the Republic.  Our inquiry includes: What does social belonging involve?  Why are some individuals included while others are excluded from full participation in civic life?  How do individual or group identities influence participation in social, economic and political processes?  Where and how do differences and diversity fit with the idea of the “American Dream?”

To address these questions and others, this two-quarter program explores the origins and manifestations of the contested concepts of race, gender, and socioeconomic class in U.S. history as part of an investigation into identity.  We will explore how identity and perceived identity have resulted in differential social, economic and political treatments and how social movements emerged to challenge systemic inequities.

Central to this program is a study of historical connections between European colonialism prior to U.S. independence as a nation and the expansion of U.S. political and military dominance globally since independence and into the 21st century. In this context, students are provided opportunities to investigate how the bodies of various populations have been racialized and gendered.  Students will examine related contemporary concepts such as racism, prejudice, discrimination, patriarchy, gender, class, affirmative action, white privilege and color-blindness. Students will consider current research and commentaries that surround debates on genetics vs. culture (“nature vs. nurture”).

Students will engage historic and contemporary perceptions of identity through readings, dialogue in seminars, workshops, films, and academic writing that integrate program material.  A goal of the program is for students to acquire knowledge of the past and its association with the present  in order to connect and recognize contemporary expressions of power and privilege by what we hear, see and read as well as absences and silences that we find.

These expressions include contemporary news accounts and popular culture artifacts (e.g., music, television, cinema, on-line media).  As part of this inquiry, we will examine the presidency of Barack Obama in relation to discourses on race.  As a learning community, we will work together to make sense of these expressions and link them to their historical origins.  Students will also have an opportunity to examine the social formation of their own identities by researching the historic foundations of their own personal narratives.  Current approaches from social psychology will be foundational in this aspect of the program.

Visits to local cultural museums, to the Washington State Archives, the National Archives in Seattle, and attendance at a theatrical performance are tentatively planned as part of this program.  

Disclaimer: Films and other program materials periodically describe and present images of violence and use language that may be considered offensive, especially in regards to racial identification.  The purpose of this material is to present significant events within their respective historical contexts.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

history, law, political science, cultural studies, and social psychology.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

No Required Online Learning: No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional for students.

Schedule Details

The program is tentatively planning to go on 2 all-day field trips each quarter.  Specific dates to-be-announced. 

Required Fees

$30 per quarter for museum entrance fees and a possible theater performance

Special Expenses

$30 per quarter for museum entrance fees and a possible theater performance


Date Revision
May 13th, 2014 This program will now accept Sophomores.
January 16th, 2014 New fall/winter opportunity added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter)

Class standing: Freshmen–Sophomore; 50% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 45


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 10143
So (16 credits): 10266

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20081
So (16 credits): 20178

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.

Need Help Finding the Right Program?

Contact Academic Advising for help in answering your questions, planning your future and solving problems.