Mary Kay Duggan, School of Library & Information Studies; Dept. of Music
Fall 2004, 3 units, American Cultures

INFOSYS 182AC Print, Literacy, Power in America: To 1900
Course Description

The course focuses on European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans and, in the western United States, Asian Americans and Chicano/Latinos. It explores the nature of oral and print societies and the impact of the communication technology of print, primarily in the English language, on a mix of print and oral cultures. Contemporary printed books, magazines, and newspapers will be used through web images, slides, and actual artifacts. The image in woodcut and engraving will be assessed as information and as propaganda. The role of education in achieving literacy for the focus groups is explored in the colonial period and in the era of compulsory education in the 19th century. The emergence of an African American press in the 19th century, tied to growing political support from the abolitionist press, is in striking contrast to the nearly invisible Native American voice confined to the reservation. San Francisco is a case study of the early emergence of a multicultural print and education environment, followed by restrictive laws, propaganda, and educational system that enforced cultural standardization and use of English. The very technology of printing is shown to tend toward centralization, standardization, and few participants, an environment that inhibits the emergence and survival of fragile alternative voices of a multicultural, multilingual population.

Approximate distribution of time (within a comparative framework):
African Americans - 10 weeks; European Americans - 10 weeks; Native Americans - 6 weeks; Chicano/Latinos - 5 weeks; Chinese - 2 weeks.
During the first two weeks the course focuses on the fundamental differences in consciousness between oral, written, and print cultures, using Ong's book to provoke discussion of the strengths of the oral cultures of Native Americans (and non-alphabetic systems of writing) and Blacks and how they differed from the intensely literate culture of the Puritans. Readings provide the voice and reactions of the Native American as written down and printed by European Americans, as well as the oral tales of the slaves. The strength of the Puritan focus on literacy and education (Lockridge) is contrasted with the oral literacy and educational practices of Native Americans and Blacks. Week 3 focuses on Native Americans and Chicano/Latinos in discussion of the interaction between oral cultures and print cultures in relation to the political power of the colonizers. Week 4 focuses on education as a road to literacy and admittance to the print culture of the rulers, exploring both educational traditions of African Americans and Native Americans and cultural and political policies that had such strong influence on access to formal schooling. Week 5 focuses on European Americans and African Americans and explores the entrance of African Americans into the religion of the printed word, especially through the Bible, as well as the dependence of European Americans on oral culture due to the paucity of printing in the New World and reliance on European print culture that was increasingly foreign to the new world. Week 7 explores the political power of the Abolitionist press and the bestseller--Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Northup's autobiography--and compares the message of white and black voices in print about African- American identity as the voice of literate African Americans enters the print arena. Week 8 compares the reservation policy for Native Americans (statistics on population and tribal movement) with the post-Civil War position of Arican Americans. The emergence of a Black press and growth of Black authorship is placed in perspective with the consolidation of U.S. publishing in the East, dominated by monolithic families. In Week 9 the geographical focus moves West to compare the experience of the tribal Native American, the colonial Spanish speaker, and the European American settler (statistics on population and tribal movement). Oral Native American accounts are compared to the prolific English-language newspaper accounts and the limited Spanish-language press. Week 10 compares the above with growing African-American publishing and the surviving Spanish-language press in California. Week 11 uses printed images to explore representated and misrepresentated identity of Americans. Katz's Black West and Who Built America? contrast unprinted photos. In Week 12 the focus explores reading as a source and determinant of ethnic identity. The final two weeks bring visitors to class to talk about Native Americans, African Americans, and Chinese Americans in the late nineteenth century. For example, Judith Tsou (UCB musicologist) uses sheet music to discuss the print image of the Chinese and relates it to the actual cultural identity of the Chinese immigrant. Four class sessions in the middle and end of the semester are reserved for student presentations and discussions of their chosen topics. It is assumed that such discussions throughout the course will reach the current power of the media to transmit, affect, and distort cultural identity.

Students should receive an understanding of the fundamental difference between oral and print cultures and of the value of the oral heritage of the focus groups. They should also realize the difficulty of transmission of oral culture in a print culture, and the importance to history to seek out that "other" history that never reached print. The constant comparative process is intended to underline the value of many cultures, and the different histories of those cultures in American society. The printed American message about the focus groups is contrasted with readings and visitors that bring alive a cultural identity that may not be reflected in print.

Students should receive an intellectual awareness of the richness and difference of Native American, African American, Chicano/Latino, and Chinese American cultural traditions and the risk to their voice from information technology that allows a few to centralize and standardize media for a mass audience. Perhaps they will recognize how important their single voice may be, both orally and in print.