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HSTAA 413 A: History Of The Trans-Mississippi West

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:20pm
SMI 304
Professor John Findlay
John M. Findlay

Syllabus Description:

The Trans-Mississippi West 1840-2000


HSTAA 413                                                                                                                             Prof. John Findlay

Winter 2018                                                                           , 206-543-2573, SMI 108B

Tues & Thurs, 2:30-4:20, SMI 304                                   Office Hours T 4:30-5:30, Wed. 2:30-3:30, & by appt.



HSTAA 413 is an upper-division course on the History of the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-2000.   Learning revolves around lectures; readings and the discussion of readings; viewing and discussing “western” films and other representations of the region; and several written assignments, including one paper entailing research beyond assigned materials.  The lectures are meant to provide both a “textbook” overview of regional history and an interpretive framework, while the readings allow us to delve into specific topics and eras in greater depth.  Several major themes, addressed in readings and lectures, prevail throughout the course: the ever-shifting relationships between Natives and non-Natives in the region; the in-migration, social organization, and political development of non-native colonizers in the western U.S. after 1840; economic, demographic, and environmental change; the evolving role of the state, in particular the federal government; the emergence of different types of regional diversity; and relationships between the American West and a) the rest of the United States and b) the world.  We pay considerable attention to how the American West has been represented over time by historians as well as in other realms of American culture, particularly film.



Much course content will be presented in lectures.  A substantial amount of reading on specific topics and events is required for the course.  Assigned readings include five paperback books available at the University Book Store (Hyde, Empires, Nations, and Families; Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre; Ngai, Impossible Subjects; Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt; and Needham, Power Lines)I have asked for these titles to be placed on 24-hour reserve in Odegaard Undergraduate Library.  A few shorter readings have also been assigned; they can be accessed electronically from UW Libraries or from links or copies posted to the course website.  The class will watch and discuss at least four films together.  For the last three of those films, students will organize into small groups that introduce each film to the class and then lead discussion of it afterwards.  Nearly every meeting will be an occasion for discussion—of the readings, the lectures, and the films.  Students are expected to complete all reading assignments on time and to participate in an informed, respectful fashion in course discussions.



Students will be graded on the basis of their written work and their participation in discussions. 

Written Work:  Students will submit seven papers.  Four will be response papers of one, single-spaced page, responding to particular reading assignments, with each paper worth 10% of the course grade.  Two papers will be take-home quizzes—one due in hard copy on Jan. 30 and the other due by e-mail by 2:00 pm on Friday 9 March.  Quizzes will consist of short answers; students will get a set of questions a few days before answers are due.  I anticipate quizzes being 3-4, double-spaced pages; each quiz will count for 10% of the course grade.  The seventh paper will be a research project on representation of the post-1840 West in film, television, literature, visual art (paintings, sculptures), museums and monuments, or historiography.  Each student will select his or her topic and frame his or her questions.  I propose that topics be finalized in consultation with the professor by 13 Feb 2018.  These hard-copy papers of 5-6 double-spaced pages, worth 15% of the course grade, will be submitted during the scheduled final-exam period, Tuesday 13 March from 4:30-6:20.  During that final session, each student will make a brief presentation on his or her project to the rest of the class.

Class Participation:  There will be two components to class participation.  First, each student is expected to come prepared to participate in an informed way during class discussions.  One recognizes that for a variety of reasons there is wide variation in how frequently students can and do contribute to class.  Nonetheless, one will be looking for evidence that students are engaged with the class material and with one another.  One’s overall contributions to discussion will count for 15% of the course grade.  Second, each student will be part of a small group that takes the lead in introducing a “Western” film to the class and then leads discussion of the film afterwards.  Each group is expected to view its film ahead of time, do research on significant aspects of it (e.g. how it marked a departure from previous “Westerns,” how it was received by the public, why it was significant when it appeared and remains significant today, and so on), and field questions from the class.  I anticipate that all members of a group will get the same grade (although I recognize that in some cases there may be unusual circumstances calling for a more discriminating approach).  This assignment will count for 10% of the course grade.



            Response Paper 1 (Hyde), Jan. 11, 10% of course grade

            Response Paper 2 (Kelman), Jan. 23, 10% of course grade

            First Take-home Quiz, due Jan. 30, 10% of course grade

            Response Paper 3 (Dochuk), Feb 20, 10% of course grade

            Response Paper 4 (Needham), Mar 1, 10% of course grade

            Second Take-home Quiz, due Mar 9, 10% of course grade

            Research Paper, due Mar 13 (15% of course grade)

            Discussion Overall (15% of course grade)

            Discussion—Small Group Presenting a film, 10% of course grade 



 Thur 4 Jan: Introduction to the course

 Tues 9 Jan:  Lecture on “Region and Nation”; read Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1893 (Washington, D.C.:  American Historical Association, 1894), 199-227. (Link on website under Pages)

 Thur 11 Jan:  Discussion of Anne Hyde, Empires, Nations, and Families: A New History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (New York: Ecco, 2012), pp. 1-345.


Tues 16 Jan:  Lecture on “Transplanting Cultures”; read Hyde, Empires, Nations, and Families, pp. 347-514.

Thur 18 Jan:  Lecture on “Indians and Indian Policy”; read Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8 (Dec. 2006): 387-409. E-Journal, UW Libraries

Tues 23 Jan:  Discussion of Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre:  Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2013), entire.


 Thur 25 Jan:  Lecture on “Industrial West, Progressive West, Mythic West, 1869-1912”



 Tues 30 Jan:  View and discuss the film STAGECOACH (1939) (96 min.)

 Thur 1 Feb:  Lecture on “Race, Labor, and Immigration, 1880-1945”

 Tues 6 Feb:  Discussion of Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects:  Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2004), entire

 Thur 8 Feb:  Lecture on “The Mobilized West, 1929-1989”; read Vicki Ruiz, “Un Mujer Sin Fronteras: Luisa Moreno and Latina Labor Activism,” Pacific Historical Review 73 (Feb. 2004): 1-20; Luisa Moreno, “Caravans of Sorrow:  Noncitizen Americans of the Southwest,” in David G. Gutiérrez, ed., Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1996), 119-23 (copies of articles on website under Files)

 Tues 13 Feb:  View and discuss the film HIGH NOON (1952) (85 min.)

 Thur 15 Feb:  Lecture on “Migration and Community in the West after 1940”

            Read Findlay, “Westerners, 1940-2000

 Tues 20 Feb:  Discuss Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt:  Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York:  W.W. Norton, 2011), entire.


  Thur 22 Feb:  Lecture on “Tourists, Movies, Historians”

            Read Findlay, “Seized by Initiative”

  Tues 27 Feb:  View and discuss the film MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (1971) (120 min.)

  Thur 1 March:  Discuss Andrew Needham, Power Lines:  Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2014), entire.


 Tues 6 March:  Lecture on “Nature in the 20th-century West”

            Read Findlay, “Armed Standoffs”



 Thurs 8 March:  View and Discuss the film SMOKE SIGNALS (1998) (89 min.)

 Tues 13 March:  Final Exam slot, 4:30-6:20




Students are responsible for submitting their own independent work. They are also responsible for understanding and following UW policies regarding academic honesty and plagiarism.  Please contact your TA or the professor if you have any questions on these matters.

Late papers will be penalized at a rate of 0.4 per day.  However, in the event of illness or personal emergencies the professor will try to be accommodating.  Please contact the instructor as soon as possible when you identify a problem. 

Once or twice, a person can “make up” a missed discussion by quickly submitting 2-3 paragraphs on that day’s reading. 

To receive a passing grade, students must complete all assignments, including participation in discussion.  In other words, one cannot (for example) skip one of the four response papers (each worth only 10% of the total course grade) and still pass the course.



            The UW Libraries are a wonderful resource for students of the history of the American West.  They contain rich holdings in academic journals, books, archival materials, films on DVD’s, newspapers, government documents, and so on.  The History librarian, Theresa Mudrock (, is a terrific resource if you need any sort of help.

            Several titles are being placed on 24-hour reserve in Odegaard Library.  These include the 5 assigned books (Hyde, Kelman, Ngai, Dochuk, Needham); two titles that are valuable for learning about the genre of “Western” films (Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, and Tompkins, West of Everything); and a handful of textbooks on the history of the American West (White, It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own; Hine and Faragher, The American West; Etulain, Beyond the Missouri; Milner et al., eds., The Oxford History of the American West; and Pomeroy, The American West in the Twentieth Century).

            The schedule of lectures and readings seems pretty straightforward.  Less obvious are a) how small groups get organized and prepared to present “their” films to the class; b) how individual students identify and develop good topics for research papers; and c) considering opportunities for class visits to see a film and visit an art museum specializing in the American West.  Let me know how I can facilitate meeting responsibilities and addressing opportunities.


AS NEEDED, MORE INFORMATION WILL BE POSTED TO THE COURSE WEBSITE (such as what is expected from a “response paper” and a take-home quiz, and some thoughts on “Western” films as a genre and a topic of class consideration).

Catalog Description: 
Anglo-American exploration, conquest, occupation, and exploitation of the trans-Mississippi West, with emphasis on economic development into the twentieth century. Considers wide range of developmental themes (social, political, cultural) in historiography of American West.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:42pm