“Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.” Traveling through the brand new state of California to conduct a survey of its geology, William. H. Brewer couldn’t help but think of this line from Heber. Even in its earliest iteration, California was a place where the fantasy of expansion—whether mental, geographical, technological—came at a dramatic cost. As the cultural mutations of California have always served as a bellwether for those to come in the rest of the country, the writing it inspires has always sat at the forefront of American literature. In this wide-ranging course, students will examine the golden state’s wild travels, both thematic and stylistic: from accounts of Native American life to works on 20th century wage inequality and Millennial writings on the Silicon Valley, from Transcendentalism to Modernism and, yes, the Beats. As the course moves through revolutions of time and culture, we’ll ask the questions that continue to haunt California: what constitutes personal freedom, and can it exist inside the societal contract? To what extent is liberation only a function of privilege? What history do we ignore, which people are displaced, when we emphasize reinvention? The class will cover writings from the 1850s to the 21st century, including those by William H. Brewer, Mary Austin, John Muir, Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, MFK Fisher, Armistead Maupin, John Fante, Nathanael West, Richard Brautigan, Joan Didion, Diane di Prima, Michael Ondaatje, and Tony Tulathimutte, as well as speeches, reportage, and film.