Patricia Steenland & Tulasi Johnson
This course explores central concepts about the American West. What defines the American West in our cultural imagination?
To answer this question, our journey takes us to the Alabama Hills in California’s Eastern Sierra and the nearby town of Lone Pine, a place that has been used for over 100 years by the film industry as a set for more than 400 movies and commercials. It is now in danger of overuse through its recent popularity as a “bucket list” spot for Instagrammers, influencers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
We look at how conventional concepts of the West surface in the ways the Alabama Hills have been and continue to be used. But we also explore the ancestral history of the actual place itself, home for thousands of years to indigenous peoples who still dwell there and consider themselves its stewards, and ask questions related to social and environmental justice.
Students are introduced to primary source research and relevant archives, working with the Bancroft Library, local film historians, and tribal elders and leaders who will partner with our class. We explore our journey together through a series of written reflections over the course of the semester, two short essays, and a final project.