Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Descriptions

GLS 571: Main Street USA

Instructor: Mike Wentworth

hawarden main street

"You know, there comes a time in every man's life when he's gotta settle down. A little town like this, this is the place to settle down in, where people are easy goin' and sincere." (Hal Carter, speaking in William Inge's Picnic )

"Beyond the station was a small village square with a bandstand. A bed of flowers went halfway around the square and added reds and whites and blues to the deep green of the town. A summer afternoon and a small town with a village square and a bandstand and people in old fashioned dress. In his whole life . . . he had never felt such a stirring deep inside, such a hunger to see a place again." (Rod Serling, "The Stop at Willoughby"

"The small town endures as the national attic of American social and spatial consciousness, a sort of frame through which further vistas are invariably viewed and twisted to fit it. Always the small town is out there . . . and always the disenchanted city dweller of suburbanite can drive there, get out, not lock the car, somehow be home." (John R. Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places )

"When Americans, depressed by the scary places where they work and dwell, contemplate some antidote, they often conjure up the image of the American small town. However muddled and generalized the image is, it exerts a powerful allure. For the idea of a small town represents a whole menu of human values that the gigantism of corporate enterprise has either obliterated or mocked: an agreeable scale of human enterprise, tranquility, public safety, proximity of neighbors and markets, nearness to authentic countryside, and permanence." (James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America 's Man-Made Landscape )

"We are all from somewhere else: some other time and, more than likely in our transient society, from some other place. And I think we never quite lose that sense of being from , however much we may come to feel that we belong to whatever place we've got to." (Charles Champlin, Back There Where the Past Was: A Small-Town Boyhood )


Traditionally associated with front-porch small-town America, "Main Street" is a longstanding and enduring construct that has significantly shaped and influenced the American popular consciousness from the earliest Puritan New England settlements through the small-town communities of Hannibal, Missouri and Virginia City, Nevada immortalized by Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer and Roughing It , the "every town" of Thornton Wilder's classic and timeless Ameican drama Our Town , American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Tilbury Town," the American poet Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology , and American novelist Sinclair Lewis's scathing satire of small-town provincialism in Main Street right up to more recent and contemporary representations of "Main Street USA" such as Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegone" monologues and Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America . Though Main Street USA and small town America clearly figure significantly in American literary history, aside from the inevitable literary perspective, our course, as a MALS course, will consider the locus of "Main Street USA" from other topical and disciplinary perspectives, including art and architecture, business and commerce, cultural and transportation geography, education, folkways and folk customs, history, kitsch, photography, popular media, psychology, religion, sociology, and sport and recreation.


Required Texts (in order of presentation)

Richard B. Francaviglia, Main Street Revisited: Time Space and Image-Building in Small-Town America -- ISBNs - Hardback = 0877455422; Paperback = 0877455430

Steven W. Sears, Hometown, U.S.A. -- Paperback ASIN = 0671220799

Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days (selected chapters) -- Paperback ISBN = 0140131612

Haven Kimmel, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana -- ISBNs - Hardback = 0753198126; Paperback = 0767915054

Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip -- Paperback ISBN = 0826321933

John O'Hara, Appointment in Samarra -- ISBNs - Hardback = 0781254817; Paperback = 0375719202

Jim Thompson, Pop. 1280 -- Paperback ISBN = 0679732497

Greg Guffey, The Greatest Basketball Story Ever Told: The Milan Miracle, Then and Now -- Paperback ISBN = 0253326893

Tony Parker, Bird, Kansas -- Paperback ASIN = 0380711370

Bob Greene, Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen -- Paperback ISBN = 006008197X

Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America -- Paperback ISBN = 0060920084

Nancy Eberle, Return to Main Street: A Journey to Another America -- Paperback ASIN = 0393301141

James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America 's Man-Made Landscape -- Paperback ISBN 0671888250

Written Requirements

Written requirements will include two shorter essays (4-5 pages apiece) and a longer investigative study (15 pages)

Note: The Main Street depicted in the image is that of Hawarden, Iowa. See their site at

Last Update: February 8, 2012