Spring 2006

Alison Landsberg and Mike  O’Malley, professors


In a society where anyone can be anything they want, people are never quite what they seem. Everyone tries to be a little bit more than they are. This course explores the phenomenon of "passing"--posing as something or someone you are not--and its relation to the "American dream" of self making. What is the difference between an ambitious person on the rise and a fraud? Between a con man and an entrepreneur?  How does passing affect or transform one's identity?  Can anyone pass as anything?  What if any are the limits imposed by race, class and gender?  We will examine this phenomenon of self making partly through fiction, autobiography, movies and theoretical texts, but also through the use of detective novels and non-fiction works on criminology.

Required Texts: (available for purchase at the GMU bookstore and elsewhere)

Franklin, Benjamin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (Dover Publications)
Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Bantam Classics; Dlx. ed.)
Twain, Mark,  Pudd'nhead Wilson (Bantam Books)
Ignatiev, Noel.  How the Irish Became White (Routledge)
Larsen, Nella,  Passing (Penguin Putnam)
Antin, Mary, The Promised Land. (Random House)
Miller, Arthur, Focus (Penguin Books)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott,  The Great Gatsby. (Penguin Books)
Horwitz, Tony,  Confederates in the Attic ( Vintage)
Butler, Octavia, Kindred. (Beacon Press)

There will be other required readings that will either be handed out, or available on-line



Week I: Self Making and the American Dream
Introduction to course. Screening and discussion of Working Girl
1/26: Complete the following assignment before class: watch television for an hour (surfing through stations) and keep track of all the instances of identity transgression or false appearances you can find (news, sit-coms, reality shows, etc.) Lecture on standardization and individualism. Discussion of TV survey

Week II:  Ben Franklin’s autobiography
Read Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Check out these critiques of Franklin and some questions to consider
2/2: Read Waldstreicher essay, “Runaways and Self-Made Men”(hand-out) Complete runaway/passing assignment before class (see course website)

Week III:  Detection and the 19th century "science" of identity
Read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Study in Scarlet, chs. 1 and 2 only;  and also “Man With the Twisted Lip,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Copper Beeches,” “The Stockbroker’s Clerk”
2/9: Read Edgar Allan Poe, "Man of the Crowd" and Ian Hacking, "Making up People" (handout). Read “Francis Galton and Composite Types.” Read “What's my crime?"

Week IV: Detecting Race
Read Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson. Read Joshua Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood, chapter 6 (handout) Discussion of Barnum’s "What is it?"
2/16: Read Justice Harlan's dissent in Plessy vs. Ferguson case  Screening of Squaw Man (DeMille, 1914)  Paper Due

Week V: Constructing Whiteness
Read Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. Discussion of images and political cartoons
2/23: Read excerpts from Ozawa and Thind Racial Prerequisite Cases. Chinese Exclusion lecture and discussion of cartoons. Screening of An Up-To-Date Squaw (Pathe, 1911) and Romance of the Western Hills (Griffith, 1910)

Week VI: Passing
Read Nella Larsen, Passing; Lauren Berlant, "National Brands, National Bodies" (handout) Discussion of Creole Hair advertisement
3/2: Screening and discussion of Imitation of Life (John Stahl, 1934). In-class writing exercise

Week VII: Race and Class
3/7: Screening Eight Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002)
3/9: Read David Roediger, Wages of Whiteness excerpts (handout). Screening of episode from the Chris Rock show

Week VIII: Spring Break 3/14-16 No Class

Week IX: From Ethnic to White
3/21: Read Mary Antin, The Promised Land
3/23: Listen to Eddie Lang recordings and complete on-line exercise. Screening of Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927)

Week X: Misrecognition
3/28: Read Arthur Miller, Focus. In-class writing exercise
3/30: Screening of Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)

Week XI: Identity as Performance: Class Passing
4/4: Read F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
4/6: Screening of Boiler Room (Ben Younger, 2000)

Week XII: Identity as Performance: Gender Passing
4/11: Read Anne Fausto-Sterling, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough” Read Jo Paoletti, “The Gendering of Infants’ and Toddlers’ Clothing in America” (handout). Screening of NOVA, “Sex: Unknown”
4/13: Screening and discussion of Transamerica (Duncan Tucker, 2005). Read Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" (packet)

Week XIII: Identity as Performance: The Carnivalesque
4/18: Screening of Rock Star (Stephen Herek, 2001). Read Natalie Davis, “Women on Top”
4/20: Read Toll, Blacking Up excerpts (handout). Read James Cook, “Dancing Across the Color Line” (on-line) Screening of clips from Bamboozled

Week XIV: Identity as Performance: Passing Back
4/25: Read Horowitz, Confederates in the Attic
4/27: Read Octavia Butler, Kindred

Week XV: Identity as Performance: Passing for Human
5/2: Screening and discussion of Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, director’s cut)
5/4: Read A.M. Turing,  “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” and try a simulated Turing test

Final Papers Due Tuesday May 9, by 12 pm, in Professor Landsberg’s mailbox, Department of History and Art History, Robinson B, 3rd floor