AMS 151: American Landscapes and Places
Special Topic: Yosemite
||Office: Voorhies 379
|Meeting Time: MW 10-11:50
||Office Hours: W 1:30-3, R 9:30-11 and by appointment
|Classroom: 101 Olson
||Telephone: 2-1954 office, (510) 548-8936 home
This is a preliminary web page for students interested in the course, based primarily on the course proposal I submitted to the American Studies department. I am putting together a reader for Off Campus Books, and will be posting more information and concrete details in the coming weeks. I look forward to an interesting and exciting quarter!
AMS 151, American Landscapes & Places
This iteration of the course will take Yosemite as its focus, examining the ways in which this national park has been conceived and continues to be reconceived as a public place, as a landscape of national and international significance. Here are some questions, modified from the generic American Studies course description, which we will explore together this fall:
- How has Yosemite contributed to the conception of national, regional and individual identity?
- How does Yosemite as a public space constitute and communicate significant messages to visitors and viewers?
- What are the main approaches to reading the "discourses" or "texts" of Yosemite?
- In what ways is Yosemite made available (over-available?) to different groups of users?
- In what ways have "appropriate uses and activities" been defined and redefined over the years?
- How does our management of Yosemite reflect changing values and attitudes?
- In addition to readings in the theory of place and the history of the park, students will explore a range of primary sources, using theory to inform practice.
From its "discovery" in the 1850s Yosemite has been explicitly conceived in terms of national identity and a national role--as an American locus of Sublime scenery on a par with the Alps, as a national treasure to be protected from logging or inappropriate exploitation, as a "must-see" destination for all visitors to California. As one of the "Big Three" National Parks (along with Yellowstone and Grand Canyon) Yosemite has also been the focus of debate over public policy in these spaces--everything from road building and possible parking garages to elite hotels and rationing of camping permits, with crime and crowd control and wildlife policies tossed into the mix.
Yosemite itself (and often the Valley in particular) embodies many aspects of a town or city: by turns it is a commemorative site, it contains museums in several senses, it has several preservation villages, it contains its own shopping mall, and it has been likened to a theme park. Over the history of the park every one of these aspects has come under scrutiny as being inappropriate to a "national park," and the debates over appropriateness could provide useful texts for students to read and decipher.
Here's a list of possible topics and examples that we can pursue:
- San Francisco's water, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and John Muir's formation of the Sierra Club
- Role of women (Shirley Sargent and her social history + her novel Ranger in Skirts)
- Treatment of indigenous: Ahwaneechee and others, "Indian Caves," "Bloody Canyon," basket-weaving demos--Yosemite as historic site / museums
- The Firefall controversy--natural and unnatural spectacle-->traffic etc. (could also discuss the serious plans to build an aerial tramway, Chamonix-style, to Glacier Point)
- Skiing at Badger Pass (is downhill skiing an appropriate activity in a national park?--possible guest lecture by Howard Weamer, author of The Perfect Art: The Ostrander Lake Ski Hut and the History of Skiing in Yosemite.)
- Yosemite on the big and small screen (recall the short-lived TV show "Sierra" and the controversy over painting the granite boulders so they'd come out better)
- The bear controversy: from feeding spectacle at the garbage dump arena to bear boxes and e-z-open cars
- Rock climbing (esp. aid climbing & bolting; also, rescue issues) and the Camp 4 phenomenon
- Hang gliding (have to be certified, must launch before 8 AM etc.)
- BASE jumpers off El Cap (the recent "Husband films wife's death jump--footage at Six O'clock" madness)
- Rafting / kayaking (the float & bloat crowd vs. the hard-core kayakers)
- Crime in Paradise: what happens when you turn the Valley into a population-10,000 trailer park
- Naming the Giant Sequoias after people and things; place names in general
- The beginnings of eco-tourism and habitat restoration
- Forest fire management policy: control vs. let-it-burn
- General Plans, development versus restoration, popular versus elite culture issues
Last updated: 5 September 2000