Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

American Conversations

Director, 2007-08: Colin Wells (English), early American literature, the Beat Generation

Faculty, 2007-08: Mark Allister (English), environmental literature, American regionalism, men’s studies; Jim Farrell (History), contemporary culture, environmental history, the sixties; Eric Fure-Slocum (History), modern America, urban history; Steven Hahn (History), colonial and early American history, Native Americans; Carol Holly (English), American literature, women writers, autobiography; Judy Kutulas (History), U.S. women, media studies; L. DeAne Lagerquist (Religion), American religious history; Matthew Rohn (Art and Art History), American and modern art and cultural studies; Mary Titus (English), American literature and gender in literature and culture

American Conversations is a learning community that introduces students in their first two years to the liberal arts through an integrated sequence of four courses. Over that time we pursue conversations that have shaped the history and culture of the United States and seek to live Thomas Jefferson’s dream that free and educated citizens should learn to understand what is going on in the world and to keep their part of it going right.

Like the college’s other Conversations programs, American Conversations is open to students of all interests who like to read, discuss, write about ideas, and look at issues through the lenses of several disciplines at once. Each course combines the study of history, literature, art history, multicultural studies, and a variety of human and behavioral sciences to provide students with a starting point for gaining greater lifelong inquiry into American thought and values.

One faculty member who teaches American Conversations remains with students through four courses in the sequence and teams with a second professor from a different area of study each semester. Students live in the same residence hall during their first year, enjoy some meals and special events together, and do other things to create a support system and learning community prior to the time when most students select a major.

Admission to the Program

Each year approximately 38 first-year students are admitted to American Conversations. Entering first-year students receive information about the program soon after their admission to St. Olaf College.

Course Equivalents for General Education Requirements

By successfully completing the four common courses of American Conversations, a student fulfills the following general education requirements:

  • First-Year Writing (one course);
  • Historical Studies in Western Culture (one course);
  • Multicultural Studies— Domestic (one course);
  • Artistic Studies (one course);
  • Literary Studies (one course);
  • Human and Behavioral Sciences (one course);
  • Courses with Writing (two courses);
  • Oral Communication (one course)

American Conversations 101-202 are offered only to first-year students and sophomores enrolled in the American Conversations program. American Conversations students must take these courses in sequence.

101 Declaring Independence, 1620-1865

Spanning two centuries, from the founding of the colonies to the close of the Civil War, this course begins our discussion of questions central to the entire sequence: "What is an American?" "What does it mean to be free?" Students explore the institutions, images, and stories of Euro-Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans.Topics and texts include the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson's architecture, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and the coming of the Civil War.

102 Democratic Vistas, 1800-1900

In this century of institutional development, national expansion, and sectional conflict, Americans continued to define a national identity. Students probe the ways in which region, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender inform individual and group contributions to the conversation. They also analyze how geographical expansion and ideas of progress influenced different visions and versions of America. Topics and texts include Transcendentalist writers, the Second Great Awakening, Black Elk Speaks, landscape painting, and Western photography.

201 Re-making America, 1865-1945

Burgeoning cities and industrialism, an emerging market economy, changing opportunities for women, an influx of immigrants, and the migration of African Americans to urban centers -- all opened questions of freedom of expression, distribution of resources, and American identity. Topics and texts include the Statue of Liberty, the World's Columbian Exposition, the Model T Ford and the Harlem Renaissance.

202 Pursuits of Happiness, 1920-2000

Students in this course examine technology, the mass market and consumerism, and the increasingly complex relations between identity and material goods. They will also explore the images, institutions, and stories of environmental, feminist, and Civil Rights activists in the context of Cold War America. Topics and texts include Yosemite National Park, Japanese internment camps, Adrienne Rich's poetry and prose, Freedom Summer, Las Vegas, and the Mall of America.