The first few weeks of this course were spent assembling an American Studies toolkita set of basic concepts and theories that can be applied when analyzing a wide array of cultural artifacts and social practices. The toolkit includes the following terms:

American Studies
Myth (or Cultural Myth)
Social Location
The Other
This essay will give you a chance to demonstrate your grasp of these concepts by applying them to a new situation.


Write a 4-5 page essay in which you use one or more of the concepts from the American Studies toolkit to analyze a contemporary news story or cultural phenomenon (person, event, text or practice) of your choice. Choose ONE of the following approaches:

Students can analyze how a particular cultural texta book, film, advertisement, website, photograph, song, etc.reaffirms or challenges dominant ideas about one of the concepts.

Students can analyze a current news story or media controversy to understand the contemporary relevance of one of the concepts in their toolkit.

Students can analyze how a current news story or cultural text reaffirms or challenges a particular cultural myth about the United States.

Students can analyze the identity or social location of a prominent American figure.

Students can perform an ideological analysis to show how a certain news story or cultural text makes certain ideas about America (or Americans) seem natural or commonsensical.

Students can analyze how a cultural text or social practice casts certain groups in the role of the other.

Whatever approach you choose, all papers should aspire to one (or both) of the following: they should use the chosen concept to shed light on some aspect of contemporary American culture, or they should use some aspect of contemporary American culture to shed light on the chosen concept.

Essay Structure

Papers should include an introduction that either defines the concept(s) to be explored in the essay or explains the cultural phenomenon to be discussed. In either case, provide enough background about the subject(s) so that a reader unfamiliar with the texts would be able to follow the argument.
The introduction should conclude with a clear thesis statement that makes a claim about the relationship between the concept and the cultural phenomenon to be discussed.
The body of the paper should consist of evidence, drawn from your example, which illustrates the operation of one or more of the terms in the AMST tool kit.
Each paragraph should have a clear topic sentence (a statement that explains what the paragraph will discuss), and all evidence should be explained in relation to your thesis statement. Use course texts when possible to clarify terminology or develop concepts.
The argument should build to a conclusion that makes clear the significance of your analysis (i.e., why it helps the reader understand the concept or phenomenon).
All sources, including course texts and your cultural phenomenon, should be cited in proper MLA style (only!). For help with MLA style, see the MLA handout in the Writing Tips folder of the D2L, or visit one of the online links to MLA advice provided there. You do NOT need to cite material taken from lecture, but do NOT quote it verbatim (word-for-word) either.

Formatting Guidelines

Papers must be typed, double-spaced with twelve point font and 1 margins all around. On the right hand corner of the first page, single-spaced, you need to provide the following information: Name, course title, date. One space below, centered, you need to provide the title of the essay. It can be whimsical, clever, or serious; what it cannot be, however, is Essay #1 or An Analysis of [name of theme].

Number all pages after the first page. Begin your paper at the top of the first page (no extra spaces between the title and the first paragraph).


Because this essay is short, it needs to be especially clear and to the point. The essay will be graded on its argument, evidence, and presentation (writing, spelling, clarity, length, format, etc.). The strongest papers (A level) must be clearly written, with a persuasive thesis, substantial textual evidence to back up your argument/s, and a bare minimum of spelling and grammatical errors. See the syllabus for additional information about grading criteria.