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Week Ten: The Mythic West

Page history last edited by mwitgen@... 6 years, 2 months ago

Home

 

November 4: The Wild West and the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show

 

Readings

 

 

Buffalo Dance from the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show by Thomas Edison (1894)

 

Annie Oakley from the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show by Thomas Edison (1894)

 

The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter (1903)

 

White Fawn's Devotion by James Young Deer (1910)

 

 

Study Questions

 

1. What are the similarities and differences in the story of America and western expansion as told by Frederick Jackson Turner, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Ned Buntline?

 

2. The images above can be seen as cultural artifacts that together constructed dominant ideas of the West. For each of these images, try to answer the following questions:

 

a. What type of image is this? (E.g. advertisement, painting, newspaper illustration, etc.)

b. When and where was it made, and what was likely audience is it aimed at?

c. What visual details stand out for you, and how do they give meaning to the image?

d. What ideas, observations, or assumptions does this image suggest about the American West?

 

3. In what ways do you think these artifacts produced the intellectual milieu in which Turner conceived his essay? Try to answer giving specific examples from the images and from Turner's essay.

 

4. What is the significance of wilderness for Turner? Can you link Turner's concept of free land with the Indian policy of Thomas Jefferson?  What is the relationship between these concepts of wilderness and frontier with the settler homestead? -- think of specific examples from Cody, Buntline and the movie Shane. 

 

5.Explain the significance of the log cabin in American popular culture?  Think in terms of the changing cultural meanings associated with this iconography and how they relate to politics, ideas about gender relations, and the social order. 

 

6. Consider Thomas Edison's films and Edwin S. Porter's "The Great Train Robbery" in relation to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Do you think that the early western is a new art form, or is it a continuation of the Wild West Shows? What are the similarities and difference in terms of their production, content, and likely audiences?

 

7. "White Fawn's Devotion" is directed by James Young Deer, the first Native American film director. To what extent does it reject traditional Indian captivity stories, and to what extent does it uphold them?

 

8. How are these films, like the Wild West Show, a form of American self representation? What do these films say about idea of Indian assimilation?

 

 

 

November 6: Cowboys and Indians 


Readings

 

  • Watch: John Ford's Fort Apache (1948)

 

Study Questions 

 

1. Lieutenant Colonel Thursday initially calls the Apaches "digger Indians." What does this mean, and what does it say about his character? 

 

2. What are the major contrasts between York and Thursday? What are their different opinions on the causes of--and solutions to--the Indian uprisings? And how does Thursday (who is based on George Armstrong Custer) conduct himself during negotiations with the Indian leaders? What would you say is the film's overall interpretation of Custer?

 

3. How does the complicated romance between Philadelphia and Lieutenant O'Rourke work the issue of class into the film? What point does the film make about this? And why is it significant that the O'Rourkes are Irish?

 

4. When Thursday finds out the O'Rourke has taken his daughter Philadelphia out riding, he tells O'Rourke: "My compliments on the completeness of this report. It speaks a knowledge of the savage Indian which I am sure you did not acquire at the military academy." What is Thursday hinting at with that line? Why is he suspicious of O'Rourke's detailed knowledge of Indian people? 

 

5. Who was Cochise? How is he talked about and represented in this film? 

 

6. What do you make of the conclusion of Fort Apache?  What is John Ford's message?  What is he saying about the relationship between myth and history, legend and truth? 

 

 

 

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