HISTORY SECTION - Dr. Paul Gopaul, Professor of History
The Alien American: A Black Historian's Perspective (Continued...)
Students had already purchased the book. It was used, prefaced with the fact that being aliens, a better understanding of our own roots and alienation would come with this as a preface. Subsequent comments proved that it was the happiest mistake that was ever made on a booklist.
New college students, a new professor, a new approach to American History, a book alien to the usual literature in a history class - what- ever the explanation, it proved useful. I found it useful because it helped to demythologize, by dealing with an alienated and fantasied people with whom I did not live, some of the approaches that I had planned to use to explain America as a melting pot.
James White and The Aliens Among Us served my purposes better than Oscar Handlin ever had. To understand the alien American I had to leave the planet - stand apart from this society and this world. This was necessary because America is so much alien, so much the product of alienation, that we have to divorce ourselves from it to understand it.
This course makes of you the same request. Hence, The Aliens Among Us serves as a text. It suggests for a beginning that our venture into outer space, the historic American adventurousness, is a direct descendent of the roots from which we come. Perhaps the national hostility that disdained the foreign, hampers the different, treats as subversive what historically was welcomed as patriotic and American - is a result of a global claustrophobia that constantly reminds a nation of historic exiles and aliens which have come together to seek unity, to seek new lands - that we have no worlds to conquer.
The safety valve of Turner's frontier having vanished, we now have to confront ourselves as alien and foreign and confront others whose "otherness" we could formally have escaped. The lure of Australia and New Zealand brings us to the company of too many people like ourselves. The American image, and the "made in America" culture is in all of the faraway places with strange sounding names to which we flee. Continuing to exercise our escapist heritage and option, only outer space continues to have that mystique of the ultimate exile and promised land.
Our contemporary plight forces us to review the history of the alien American and the land of aliens. John Bradford in his Plymouth Journal called it a promised land, flowing with milk and honey. Americans in his mold have always been a chosen people. Those who were discontent with the chosen people - symbolized by Natty Bumpo, Leatherstocking, Brookfarm, Transcendentalism - fled to conduct wilderness experiments of their own, to create their own Utopias.
The exile's quest is always for Utopia; the alien seeks to construct it so he can be at home with the dream coming true. Canada, Mexico, the West, Alaska, and the South Pacific all historically represented safety valves. These are gone. As Humanities students, we now look at the non-territorial safety valve, America. We look within. We examine the alienation, estrangement and subcultures that are the sum totals of the answers to the invitation at the base of the Statue of Liberty (Give me your tired and your poor, your teeming masses yearning to be free, etc.) - what Vance Packard has described as A Nation of Strangers.
For me, and hopefully for you, it will help to look at ourselves, to find in others not necessarily the problem or the solution, but to find instead the reflection of what in all of us is alienation and estrangement. I have shared mine with you, as have Drs. Sanchez and Liotta. Now we afford you the opportunity to share yours with us.
Your assignment, and your pursuit, within this survey of the humanities, is to
identify something "outside" in order to know something about ourselves as we
identify or describe "other." The readings have been selected to give you a
vicarious experience of the alienated, the estranged, the subculture. They
span a range from the science fiction Aliens in the land to the totally earth-bound
Occupied America. It is the student's task to open avenues of identification for
him or herself within the scope of this learning and reading experience by
identifying alienation, estrangement and subculture perceptions in others first.
The first assignment should be the point of view of the editors of the course.
What is their estrangement, alienation and sub-cultural identity? Do you discover
it because you identify with it or because it is alien to you? The overall goal
is to become conscious observers of others to better understand the alienation
or estrangement that others find in you. It is important to log, in your reading,
the points of view and statements that you find express alienation, estrangement
and define subcultures. A review of that log should enable you to write a journal
of your own. The student journal, a final 10-page, typewritten (double-spaced)
project, can be a parody of one of the personal essays, The Souls of Black
Folk, or any individual expression or selection found in the readings. It
should be a summary of the student's personal assessment of self, presented either
as a personal chronicle or a third person case study. Each individual reading
assignment, as logged, will serve as the basis of the overall self-assessment or
case study journal.
HUXCRSGD.546 - http://www.csudh.edu/hux/syllabi/546/7-2.html
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