A New Understanding of the American West

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The American West Course

The American West (AMSTUD 124A, ARTHIST 152, ENGLISH 124, HISTORY 151, POLISCI 124A) is an interdisciplinary undergraduate course taught by a distinguished group of four scholars from different departments and two different schools. It integrates several disciplinary perspectives into a comprehensive examination of Western North America: its history, physical geography, climate, literature, art, film, institutions, politics, demography, economy and continuing policy challenges. 

Core to the curriculum is the belief that the West is characterized by frontier mythology, vast distances, marked aridity, and unique political and economic characteristics. To this end, teachers and students examine themes fundamental to understanding the region, such as: time and space, water, fire, and energy, peoples, borders, boom and bust cycles, and policy challenges.


  • Bruce Cain, Political Science
  • Shelley Fisher Fishkin, English
  • David Freyberg, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • David M. Kennedy, History

PLEASE NOTE: The course is offered in WINTER quarter during the 2023-24 academic year (rather than the usual spring quarter).

It is held Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30am to 10:50am in Hewlett Teaching Center 201. 

2023-24 American West course syllabus.

Read more about the American West course
Stanford Magazine: Mythbusting the American West
Stanford Humanities: Stanford course aims to cultivate future leaders of the American West

In my view, this is the most multidisciplinary course on this or any other campus in the United States.
David Kennedy
Pulitzer Prize winning historian and Co-Founding Director of the Bill Lane Center

Teaching Faculty

Bruce Cain

Alumni Talk: Professor Bruce Cain on Prospects for Collaboration in the American West

Bruce Cain is the Faculty Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, as well as an expert in U.S. politics, and particularly the politics of California and the American West. A pioneer in computer-assisted redistricting, he is a prominent scholar of elections, political regulation, and the relationships between lobbyists and elected officials. He is currently working on state regulatory processes and stakeholder involvement in the areas of water, energy and the environment.



Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Shelley Fisher Fishkin's principal concern throughout her career has been literature and social justice. Much of her work has focused on issues of race and racism in America, and on recovering and interpreting voices that were silenced, marginalized, or ignored in America's past. 

Fisher Fishkin's broad, interdisciplinary research interests have led her to focus on topics including the challenge of doing transnational American Studies; the place of humor and satire in movements for social change; the role literature can play in the fight against racism; the influence of African American voices on canonical American literature; the need to desegregate American literary studies; the relationship between public history and literary history; literature and animal welfare;  the ways in which American writers' apprenticeships in journalism shaped their poetry and fiction; American theatre history; and the development of feminist criticism.

David Freyberg

A hydrologist and water resources specialist, Freyberg studies reservoir sedimentation and hydrology, hydrologic ecosystem services, summer drying of Pacific coast intermittent streams, tropical rainfall and throughfall, surface water-ground water interactions, especially in reservoir/sediment systems, and scaling and spatial distribution of recycled water systems.




David M. Kennedy

A founding co-director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, David Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University. Professor Kennedy received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1988. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history in 2000 for Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War.

Reflecting his interdisciplinary training in American Studies, which combined the fields of history, literature, and economics, Professor Kennedy’s scholarship is notable for its integration of economic and cultural analysis with social and political history.