A Message from Dr. Mark Banker & Information
about His Evening Course at Webb School
A year ago in this space, I announced plans to offer an evening course for adults on the Webb campus that would highlight insights I had gained from 20+ years of study into the histories of East Tennessee and the greater Appalachian region.
Many readers responded positively to that idea, and with support from the Webb Alumni Association, it happened. Teaching eager learners and NOT grading essays was pretty near heaven for me. When the course ended in May, a core group from the class wondered if we might continue with another course in 2017/18 that would address some topic of mutual interest.
In response and with support from Webb president Michael McBrien and the Alumni Association, I will offer American Rhymes – Reflections on the American Experience in 2017/18.
Some of you may recognize that the course title borrows from Mark Twain’s observation that “History does not repeat itself – but it rhymes.” That alone reveals one of my great interests and a theme that will pervade the course: our distinctly American quest for what I call a “usable past.” This impulse has contributed to many of our nation’s greatest achievements but has also fostered occasional disappointment and dismay.
The course will be offered from 6-8 p.m. on Mondays in a classroom in the Webb International Center. Its content will echo many themes and concerns of the Advanced Placement course in United States History and the senior level elective, The US Since 1945, that I taught for many years.
We will begin by exploring key influences on the American experience and how they influenced our forebears’ responses to timeless, universal questions about the nature of our citizenry, economy, and government, our role on the broader global stage, and how we view and “use” the past. After a sweeping overview of the years up to World War II, the bulk of the course will explore our recent past. Attention will be devoted to great departures in our responses to the above questions in the immediate post-1945 years and ongoing debates about those controversial policies in years since c. 1970.
The typical format for each session will be like that of the 2016/17 course. During the first 50 minutes, I will lead a lecture-discussion on a pre-announced topic or theme. After a short break and snack, we will regather and watch documentaries and occasionally movies relevant to the course. I will rely particularly on Peter Jennings’ acclaimed documentary series The Century: America’s Time
and selected clips from the series Eyes on the Prize
and Dear America: Letters from Vietnam
. We will also view all or clips from several movies that capture the spirit and/or human side of topics we will explore. These may include: High Noon
, The Searchers
, American Grafitti
, How the West was Won
, The Graduate
, Little Big Man
, Hidden Figures
, Dances with Wolves
. I may consider others that you participants in the class consider worthy of our attention.
“Homework” and reading assignments will be optional. Primary text will be H.W. Brand. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945
(used copies are available on Amazon for $2). I will also occasionally recommend essays, op-eds, memoirs and novels that capture the spirit and/or human side of topics we will explore. When possible, I will attach these to e-mails to participants. Two memoirs that I used in my Webb US Since ’45 course that are particularly good are: Ann Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
(re. Civil Rights movement) and Lynda van de Vanter, Home Before Morning
(re. Vietnam War). Both can be purchased used at affordable charge from Amazon.
I offer three guarantees:
- Attendance policy will be lenient.
- No exams (for you to take nor for me to grade!)
- By May 2018, participants will have new insights into “our America.”
Enrollment will be limited to approximately 30 – the number of desks in the classroom that we will use. “Survivors” from the 2016/17 course who urged me to offer another class will have priority status. Remaining spaces will be filled on a first come, first served basis.
On a related note: several people have asked if I might repeat the East Tennessee/Appalachia course. The answer is “yes” – but not at Webb. In response to an appeal from some of my neighbors and with support from the Roane County Heritage Commission, I will teach it fall and spring on Tuesday evenings from 7 – 9 p.m. in the historic courtroom of the Old Roane County Courthouse. It will be free, but you will have to drive to Kingston! In the spring and summer, I may offer the course one morning each week for ORICL [Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning] which is located on Roane State’s Oak Ridge campus. ORICL will provide details by mid-fall. They will have an enrollment fee for this course.
I hope many of you will be able to join us!
Dr. Mark Banker