Module Information

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AM0605 The Golden State: California


This module offers students an opportunity to explore and study California as both a place and an idea in the American imagination, through a thematic and chronological approach which goes from Mexican California in the 1840s to the suburbanisation and Cold War cultures of 1950s California. In myriad ways, California has been economically, socially, and culturally significant to the United States, while also being considered by many an "exceptional" part of the country. Special attention will be given to the work of historians, writers, boosters, visual artists, and filmmakers who have engaged with California, or parts of California, constructing its self-imagery and shaping development, culture, and issues of race, gender, class, and identity. Focusing on transformative events inside the state, the module will also consider how California has been presented to Americans (and the wider world) through different types of visual imagery, literature, and film.

The module is taught by weekly three-hour seminars and there will be an emphasis on student group work, presentations, and discussions based on close reading of primary and secondary sources. Classroom discussion and debates will foster student analytical skills concerning California history and its wider significance within American Studies.

Assessment comprises two 2,500-word research papers (50% each). Formative assessment on the modules will include the submission of an essay plan and bibliography for feed-forward on the writing of the second essay.


Key Module texts include:

Tomas Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California (University of California Press, 1994)

Sucheng Chan & Spencer Olin, Major Problems in California History (Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

Lawrence Culver, The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America (OUP USA, 2010).

Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (Verso Books, 2006)

William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past (University of California Press, 2005)

Jeannine Gendar & Dean Stewart (eds), Fool's Paradise: A Carey McWilliams Reader (Heyday Books, 2001)

Lisbeth Haas, Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936 (University of California Press, 1996)

Carey McWilliams, California, the Great Exception (University of California Press, 1999)

Don Mitchell, The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape (University of Minnesota Press, 1996)

Richard Orsi, Richard Rice & William Bullough, The Elusive Eden: A New History of California (McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 1996)

Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (University of California Press, 1992)

Kevin Starr, California: A History (Modern Library Inc., 2007)

Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (OUP USA, 1986)

Additional Reading to be Handed out in class or provided online


This is an indicative list of seminar topics:

1. Introduction: California, A Place and an Idea
2. Eldorado: The Mexican-American War and the Gold Rush
3. Citrus & the Octopus: California in the Railroad Era
4. Exclusive Hopes: Race and Labour
5. West Coast Exotic: The Spanish Fantasy Past & Nature's Gifts
6. Progress on Display: Progressivism & the California Expositions of 1915
7. City of Dreams: Los Angeles, Lifestyle, and the Rise of Hollywood
8. Contested Eden: Depression-Era California
9. Dark Visions: Southern California Noir
10. Wartime: Military Might & Japanese Internment
11. Fallout: Suburban Dreams, Beats, and Cold War California


The module aims to:

1. To provide students with an in-depth understanding of California as both a place and an idea from the Gold Rush to the 1950s

2. To develop students' ability to evaluate and synthesise a rich variety of competing ideas that shaped the development of the state

3.To challenge students to engage critically with a diverse range of historical, literary, visual, and cinematic sources

4 To provide students with the skills needed to research, evaluate, contextualise, and communicate effectively their understanding of California in written forms.


Students taking the module should have:

1. Advanced knowledge of California as both a place and an idea.

2. Ability to delineate social, cultural, economic, and political issues in a variety of different texts and sources

3. Enhanced understanding of debates about development and identity in California and how the state has been represented by different people

4. Developed the ability to research California and express an informed and evidence-based argument in written forms








The learning and teaching strategy will employ a variety of methods that are appropriate for Level 6 students (taught lectures, student-led seminars and structured debates), with an emphasis on critical thinking and independent learning.


a Summative assessment and rationale for tasks

The assessment is based upon two research papers of 2,500 words (50% each of total mark). The research papers require students to demonstrate a contextualised knowledge of a chosen topic within California. The research papers will demand interdisciplinarity and a high level of reflexivity and critical thought.

b. Additional formative assessment - detail of process and rationale

Formative assessment on the modules will include the submission of an essay plan and bibliography for feed-forward on the writing of the second essay

c. Indication of how students will get feedback and how this will support their learning

Detailed written feedback will be offered for the essay plans and the research papers. Extra feedback on seminar performance and the research papers will be available through regular office hours and in seminars.



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