American Studies Reading List

I think I have selected an array of intriguing works as “required readings” for my new Contemporary American Studies seminar course next fall; in truth, I have been working on this course, its syllabus and outline, as well as the required readings for years now. The challenge was limiting the scope of books I want us to read. I have decided to put together a “course pack” which is comprised of a diverse set of primary and secondary articles to read, alone with the following three books:


The first is a great read linking race and black nationalism as a historical phenomena to the rise of hip hop and rap music. From Black Power to Hip Hop asks students to take on a more critical position regarding the music they listen to and the forces regarding economics that have shaped the modern paradigm called America. This review stated:

Despite legislation designed to eliminate unfair racial practices, the United States continues to struggle with a race problem. Some thinkers label this a “new” racism and call for new political responses to it. Using the experiences of African-American women and men as a touchstone for analysis, Patricia Hill Collins examines new forms of racism as well as political responses to it.

In this incisive and stimulating book, renowned social theorist Patricia Hill Collins investigates how nationalism has operated and re-emerged in the wake of contemporary globalization and offers an interpretation of how black nationalism works today in the wake of changing black youth identity. Hers is the first study to analyze the interplay of racism, nationalism, and feminism in the context of twenty-first century black America.

From Black Power to Hip Hop covers a wide range of topics including the significance of race and ethnicity to the American national identity; how ideas about motherhood affect population policies; African-American use of black nationalism ideologies as anti-racist practice; and the relationship between black nationalism, feminism, and women in the hip-hop generation.

The second work above looks at the Simpson’s and how the popular TV show has had a huge impact on contemporary history. I think the most interesting thing about this work is that it allows both historians and students to assess the functionality of culture, especially when it comes to defining the traditional family and knowledge. As one reviewer of this work noted:

In exploring the thought of key philosophers including Aristotle, Marx, Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, and Kant through episode plots and the characters’ antics, the contributors tackle issues like irony and the meaning of life, American anti-intellectualism, and existential rebellion. The volume also includes an episode guide and a chronology of philosophers which lists the names and dates of the major thinkers in the history of philosophy, accompanied by a representative quote from each.

And the last work above is one I most recently read: American Jesus: How the Son of God became an American Icon. This work will push students into thinking about how different groups see and define Jesus. Moreover, it will ask students to look at how Jesus has become exploited by various groups with different agendas. A review of this work stated:

Jesus appears to be alive and well in America. Many people seek to discover the “historical” Jesus who gave rise to the Christian religion, but at least as interesting is the “cultural” Jesus which has given rise to all sorts of modern religious movements, political developments, and cultural progress. Jesus is an important figure in the Christianity of every nation, but he appears to be far more significant in America. Why?

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3 thoughts on “American Studies Reading List

  1. Great list Carson. I am elated that you explained the Simpson’s to us. I was not sure at first glance. Now that you pointed it out, I can see it.

  2. Two things, Eddie:

    (1) I had a philosophy professor at UT who used Simpsons clips every week during lecture to illustrate various philosophers and their take on moral/ethical dilemmas. Daniel Bonevac is his name — you should see if he has any whimsical articles that might support the “D’oh of Homer.”

    (2) When you get to American Jesus, let me know — I’d love to be (more than) a fly on the wall for some of those discussions.

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