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The Myth of The Frontier

Class at Faculty of Arts |


Tentative Class Plan  

Week 1 (October 4) 

Introduction: The Myth of the Frontier  

Week 2 (October 11) 

Reading: Frederick Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893) 

Walter Prescott Webb: The Great Plains (1931) - extracts  

Week 3 (October 18)  

Pioneers and Trailblazers 

Reading: J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Daniel Boone narrative (John Filson), J. F. Cooper (ch. 3)   

Week 4 (October 25) 

Native Americans as Noble Savages

Reading: selections of Romantic texts on Native Americans 

Photographs: Edward Curtis   

Week 5 (November 1) 

Guest Talk by the Czech novelist Jáchym Topol (date subject to change)  

Week 6 (November 8) 

Native Americans as Demons: Captivity Narratives 

Reading: selections from captivity narratives

Film: The Searchers (1956)  

Week 7 (November 15) 

Native Americans Re-Imagined

Reading: James Welch: Fools Crow (selections)

Film: Dances With Wolves (1993, Kevin Costner)  

Week 8 (November 22) 


Reading: selections from George Armstrong Custer: My Life on the Plains, Elizabeth Custer: Boots and Saddles, newspaper articles on the Battle of Little Big Horn 

Film: Custer’s Last Fight (a 1912 black-and-white silent film)  

Week 9 (November 29) 

Golddiggers, Gamblers and Whores with the Heart of Gold 

Reading: Bret Harte (selected stories), Mark Twain (selections from Roughing It)

Film: Stagecoach (1936, John Ford)  

Week 10 (December 6) 


Reading: selections from Hough, Pat Garrett, Burns, Borges, Ondaatje 

Film: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973, Sam Peckinpah)  

Week 11 (December 13) 

The Wild West Revised 

Reading: Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian (selections)  

Week 12 (December 20) 

Essay topics presentation and discussion   

Week 13 (January 3) 

Transnational West 

Films: Limonádový Joe, Winnetou (Apache Gold), Once Upon a Time in the West  


The course will introduce the students to the essential American cultural myth: the myth of the American frontier, or the Wild West. We will examine the historical and cultural sources of the myth and follow the creation of the major stereotypes, examining not only the role it has played in American culture, but also its reflection in other cultures and subcultures.

The material for the course will be chosen from across various art forms: we will read some of the basic works of the earlier frontier literature (captivity narratives, Cooper’s novels or Bret Harte’s stories), and also more modern reflections and rewritings of the myth in the U.S. and elsewhere (Cormac McCarthy, James Welch, M. Ondaatje, J. L. Borges); we will discuss visual representations of the myth (paintings, posters, photographs, Native “ledger art”) and, occasionally, songs and ballads ; we will examine selected seminal western films (Stagecoach, The Searchers), some revisionist westerns (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Dances with Wolves), and look into transnational takes at the western genre (Limonádový Joe – a Czech musical parody, Winnetou – an “Ostern”, Once Upon a Time in the West – a Spaghetti western). Part of the course is a guest lecture by the eminent Czech novelist Jáchym Topol, the author of Trnová dívka (Thorn Girl), a book of Native American folk tales (the lecture will be in Czech).

The course is taught in English (with the exception of the guest lecture) / Předmět je vyučován v anglickém jazyce (s výjimkou přednášky J. Topola).