Students to travel 40 days, 9,300+ miles to define what it means to be an American
Planning to tour “The United States in 40 Days,” 10 Belmont University students and two faculty members will board a chartered sleeper bus June 6 to begin a 9,300+ mile, cross-country journey in an attempt to answer the question, “What Does It Mean to Be an American?” The class will travel through 40 states on this first-of-its-kind, study-at-home journey, chronicling their experiences on a daily blog as they visit sites of national and historical significance and encounter “local culture” everywhere from the Deep South to the West Coast to the Northeast and all points in between.
Sociology Department Chair Dr. Ken Spring first conceived of the class more than two years ago and has been working ever since on brainstorming the class’s structure and planning the logistical details of the trip. “Each place we’re going to visit provides a snapshot into our history, and together, they provide a glimpse into our future,” Spring said. “By understanding our own land, our own ideas and how they came about, we better understand what it means when someone proudly proclaims themselves an American.”
Constructed to include cultural and economic epicenters, iconic landmarks and places of special interest, “The United States in 40 Days” will involve at least one full day of exploration and discovery at each stop as well as an evening discussion of the uniqueness of each place along with the larger themes at play: politics, religion, education, identity, media, the economy, family, race, gender, etc. Upon signing up for the class, each student was assigned three stops on the trip and made responsible for documenting the location’s history and biography along with determining potential site visits for their assigned locations. The students will also facilitate evening discussions in the stops for which they are responsible.
The summer experience will be offered as two classes for a total of six credit hours: three in Cultural Sociology (Sociology 3990 or Junior Cornerstone 3015) and three in Third-Year Writing (English 3010). In the longstanding tradition of Belmont service learning, at least three stops on the trip will also include community service projects with students working at a soup kitchen in New Orleans and a homeless shelter in San Francisco, among other volunteer efforts.
Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Belmont Writing Center Dr. Bonnie Smith will be teaching her Third Year Writing students about Travel Stories online, facilitating blog discussions and encouraging students in their attempts to understand and convey a sense of “place.” Smith said, “Americans as diverse as Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac, Paul Simon and Sarah Vowell have used writing and research to tell stories about their times on the road. The course I’m teaching is an advanced writing course required of all Belmont students, and this section will focus on the stories we Americans have told and continue to tell ourselves about what a road trip across our vast and varied land means to us.”
At the conclusion of the trip—the bus is scheduled to arrive back in Nashville on Thurs., July 16—all of the students will write major papers for both courses, including five to eight pages on each of the three stops they were responsible for facilitating. Spring will edit the chapters and add an introduction and conclusion, ultimately compiling a book for publication that is tentatively titled We the People: (Re)Discovering America in 40 Days. Conversations are currently underway to secure a publisher for the work.
A complete trip itinerary can be seen below. Schedule is subject to change. In addition, students will be posting daily blogs, photos and videos online. To follow their journey, visit http://forum.belmont.edu/40states/.
‘The United States in 40 Days’ Itinerary
Monday, June 1-Friday, June 5: Nashville, TN
Saturday, June 6: Memphis, TN
Sunday, June 7: Little Rock, AR
Monday, June 8: New Orleans, LA
Tuesday, June 9: San Antonio, TX
Wednesday, June 10: El Paso, TX
Thursday, June 11: Roswell, NM
Friday, June 12: Native American Indian Reservation, Gallup, NM
Saturday, June 13: Grand Canyon National Park
Sunday, June 14: Salt Lake City, UT
Monday, June 15: Las Vegas, NV
Tuesday, June 16-Wednesday, June 17: Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, June 18: San Francisco, CA
Friday, June 19: Crescent City, CA
Saturday, June 20: Portland, OR
Sunday, June 21: Seattle, WA
Monday, June 22: Glacier National Park, Whitefish, MT
Tuesday, June 23: Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner, WY
Wednesday, June 24: Mt. Rushmore and Pine Ridge, SD
Thursday, June 25: Minneapolis, MN
Friday, June 26-Saturday, June 27: Chicago, IL
Sunday, June 28: Indianapolis, IN
Monday, June 29: Detroit, MI
Tuesday, June 30: Cleveland, OH
Wednesday, July 1: New York State
Thursday, July 2-Saturday, July 4: Boston, MA
Sunday, July 5-Tuesday, July 7: New York City, NY
Wednesday, July 8: Philadelphia, PA
Thursday, July 9-Saturday, July 11: Washington, D.C.
Sunday, July 12: Williamsburg, VA
Monday, July 13: Charleston, SC
Tuesday, July 14: St. Augustine, FL
Wednesday, July 15: Montgomery, AL
Thursday, July 16-Friday, July 17: Nashville, TN