English 472

English 364: The American Indian in Popular Culture
(WebCT online course)

Course Description and Purpose

This course will trace the collection of mental images, stereotypes, and imaginings based loosely on American Indians.  We will also explore American Indians’ responses to those images, which run anywhere from the critical to the humorous.  Our exploration will begin with excerpts from the travel narratives of Christopher Columbus and John Smith and work its way through historical moments as Indians have moved between portrayals of the savage and the noble savage.  We will read, examine, and critique multiple genres and forms including art, photography, novels, poetry, and more.  Students completing this course will have a deeper understanding of how popular culture creates and maintains American Indian stereotypes and imagery and how American Indians have responded to these stereotypes and imagery in their own creative and political works.

Specifically, the course this semester will cover several areas:

  • UNIT ONE: The Indian as an Idea--Invention and Perpetuation
  • UNIT TWO: Captivity Narratives--From the Puritans' Wilderness to Hollywood Films
  • UNIT THREE: William Apess (Pequot)--Connecting Past with Present
  • UNIT FOUR: The Indian as Object of Study
  • UNIT FIVE: The Museum Indian
  • UNIT SIX: "The Indian Past" Influences Indians’ Present
  • UNIT SEVEN: Indians as Objects of Desire   

The weekly lessons explore images in popular culture in order to demonstrate how American Indian stereotypes and imagery reveal deep-seated cultural issues and values.  We will also explore imagery in the various formats that depict American Indians within mainstream American society. Finally, we will learn how American Indians have responded in kind to Indian imagery, mocking and parodying non-Indian representations.


Readings for this course will be text-based or from online resources available on the World Wide Web.  Assigned readings will be listed in the Weekly Lessons for each week.  Because Web sites come and go on the Internet, assigned online readings may be updated during the course to add new relevant Web sites or to delete sites that have been retired.  Students are invited to browse the Web and recommend additional sites for the class to visit.

Required texts:

  • Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr.             The White Man's Indian
  • Mary Rowlandson                     Sovereignty and Goodness of God
  • William Apess                           Son of the Forest
  • Sherman Alexie                         Indian Killer
  • Nora Naranjo-Morse                 Mud Woman: Poems from the Clay


Students are required to view excerpts from films for this course.  Here is the tentative screening list so far for this semester:

  • Disney's Pocahontas
  • Last of the Mohicans


Students should expect to spend about eight to ten hours per week on course work for The American Indian in Popular Culture.  Course requirements include weekly lessons with discussion topics, annotated bibliography, argument proposal, and a 4-6 pg. final research project that analyzes any aspect of popular culture involving American Indians or American Indians' responses to Indian imagery in popular culture: film; theater; literature; poetry; oral tradition; arts (painting; sculpture; weaving; basketry; pottery; dance; music, etc.); fashion; artifacts; journalism; imagery in mainstream media; photography; anthropology; identity; cultural and spiritual appropriation; stereotypes, mascots, etc.

Course requirements and activities include:

  • reading assigned texts and online materials
  • posting responses to online discussion questions
  • replying thoughtfully to other students' postings
  • exploring and commenting on relevant Web sites
  • compiling an annotated bibliography
  • creating an argument proposal
  • writing a final research paper that will be your job to post on the class wiki

There are no examinations for this online course unless students appear to be falling behind in their work.

Here is the value of each assignment in the final grade for this course:

  • Original postings                                    20%
  • Response postings                                20%
  • Annotated bibliography                          15%
  • Argument proposal                                15%
  • Final paper and contribution to wiki      30%
217 Humanities Bldg., Albuquerque, NM 87131       Telephone: (505) 277-6347 Fax: (505) 277-5573