American Culture

American Culture Director: Harvey K. Flad (Geography);Steering Committee: Harvey K. Flad (Director), Peter Antelyes (English), Frank Bergon (English), Randolph Cornelius (Psychology), Eileen Leonard (Sociology), Karen Lucic (Art), Adelaide H. Villmoare (Political Science); Panel of Advisors: Harvey K. Flad (Director), Lisa Collins (Art), Paul Kane (English), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Hispanic Studies), Anne Pike-Tay (Anthropology); Participating Faculty: Peter Antelyes, Frank Bergon, Barbara Bianco, Lisa Brawley, Lisa Collins, Anne Constantinople (Psychology), Randolph Cornelius, Margarette Downey, Harvey K. Flad, Wendy Graham (English), Eileen Leonard (Sociology), Karen Lucic, Thomas McGlinchey, Deborah Dash Moore (Religion), Lisabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Anne Pike-Tay, Sidney Plotkin (Political Science), Thomas Porcello (Anthropology), Paul Russell (English).

The multidisciplinary program in American Culture offers students an opportunity to study the civilization of the United States from a variety of perspectives and through the methodologies of different intellectual disciplines. "Culture,'' as used in this program, means the ways in which Americans understand themselves and interact with each other and their environment. It includes their institutions as well as their literature, their families, their politics and economics, work and machines, habits, rituals, ideas and beliefs, and art and artifacts. Because of the social diversity of Americans, the study of culture in the United States refers to many cultures and must ask how this diversity coexists with national identity.

The program has three main purposes: (1) to familiarize students with the dissimilar ways that various disciplines study culture; (2) to give them a broad knowledge of various facets of American culture; and (3) to develop a more sophisticated understanding of one aspect of American culture.

Because Vassar offers a broad range of courses relevant to the study of American culture, students interested in the concentration should consult with the program's director as early as possible in order to plan a coherent program of study around their interests. Although the emphasis varies with the training and interests of individual students, all students in the program should think of their study of American culture as including some attention to: (a) American expression in the arts; (b) American institutionspolitical, social, economic; (c) American thought and beliefs; (d) American history; and (e) the American physical environment. Students are admitted to the program by the director, subject to the approval of their statement of focus and program of study by the Panel of Advisers.

Requirements for Concentration: 16 units, including (1) the Seminar in American Culture; (2) at least 2 units of special studies in American Culture; (3) 1 unit of advanced (300-level) work in each of two separate disciplines, in the junior or senior year, one of which must be selected from the supplementary list of approved courses; (4) familiarity with a culture other than American (this requirement may be met by a semester's study abroad in the junior year or by 1 unit selected from an approved list of courses); (5) the senior project; (6) the senior colloquium; and (7) remaining courses chosen from the supplementary list of approved courses.

After the declaration of the major, no required courses may be elected NRO.

Junior-Year Requirements: 1 unit of special studies in American Culture; the Seminar in American Culture (250); and completion and approval of the senior project proposal.

Senior-Year Requirements: Senior thesis or project (300); Senior Colloquium (301); and Multidisciplinary Research Methods (313).

Mormons in America is the theme for 2000/01. Using a variety of materials drawn from literature, history, and the social sciences, this course explores aspects of the Morman experience in America. In addition to examining the major tenets of the LDS church, we trace the evolution of the religion from its beginnings in upstate New York to its current status as one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Attention is paid to the major figures in the development of the religion, such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the conflicts, both historical and contemporary, between Mormons and the rest of American society. We will also consider what is particularly American about Mormonism. Mr. Cornelius, Mr. Russell.

Open to freshmen and sophomores.

Two 75-minute periods.


II. Intermediate

212b. The Press in America (1)

The course examines the media's role in the contemporary world, covering mostly traditional journalism venues of newspapers, magazines, and television. Different kinds of writing are explored from news reporting to feature profiles, from editorial writing to criticism. Journalism standards and ethics and the history of the press are reviewed, especially since Watergate. Through reading assignments, students are encouraged to take a critical view of journalism, both print and electronic. Students are also asked to develop their skills as editors by evaluating work of their peers in class. Applicants to the course must submit samples of original nonfiction writing and a statement about why they want to take the course by mid-November. The nature of the writing submissions is specified beforehand in flyers distributed to students through the Program office. Not open to first-year students. Ms. Downey.

Admission by permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period.

250a. Seminar in American Culture: The Multidisciplinary Approach (1)

The intent of the seminar is to help students converge upon a cultural feature from more than one direction, to recognize some of its inherent complexities, and to assess the peculiar resources for such illumination offered by a multidisciplinary approach. Topic for 2000/01: We the People. The preamble to the Constitution introduces two major themes that have informed the American experience: individualism and the claims of the community. We examine various ways in which this tension has been and remains evident: in the assumptions of the founding fathers, in the public educational system, and in our definition of ourselves as we move into adulthood. We pay particular attention to the growth of America as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic community and the ways in which various groupsNative Americans, African Americans, womenwho were not considered part of "We the people" in 1789 have established their presence and voice in American literature and life. As an introduction to multidisciplinary study, the course uses the methodologies of literature and rhetoric studies on the one hand and those from the social sciences on the other to examine both contemporary and "classic" texts in American Studies. Specific topics may include: the education of the child citizen, coming of age in a multicultural society, the struggle for inclusion and the pain of exclusion, the rights of the individual and his/her responsibility to the social whole. Miss Constantinople, Mr. McGlinchey

Required of students concentrating in the program. Not open to senior majors. Open to other students by permission of the director and as space permits.

Prerequisite: course work that has dealt with American materials in at least two separate disciplines.

Two 75-minute periods.

275b. Ethnicity and Race in the U.S.(1)

This course examines the meanings of cultural citizenship in contemporary American society. It is organized around texts and films dealing with memory and identity, domestic and global economies, symbolic and material homeplaces, and changing constructions of the nation. We explore personal and collective experiences of people both shaping and being shaped by an always evolving American culture. Ms. Bianco, Ms. Lei..

Special permission.

Two 75-minute periods.

282a. Technology and the American Music Industry (1)

(Same as Anthropology 282) This course examines the cultural dimensions and historical development of sound recording and reproduction technologies, and analyzes their impact on the production and consumption of a variety of twentieth-century musical genres. Particular attention is given to the nature of sonic fidelity and the technological drive toward audio "transparency," the evolution of sound recording tools and techniques, technological failures (e.g., 8-track tapes, Quad sound), and the representation of sound recording in popular literature and film. These topics are illustrated with extensive examples from American classical, jazz, rock, and rap music. Mr. Porcello, Mr. Moore.

Prerequisite: Permission of the director

Two 75-minute periods.

287a. From the Natural History to Ecotourism (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 287) From the rise of the Natural History Museum, the Bureau of Ethnology, and early endeavors to create a national literature, the appropriation of American Indian lands and American Indians (as natural objects) offered white Americans means to realize their own national identity. Today, the American consumer-collector goes beyond the boundaries of the museum and zoo and into ecotourism, which claims to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate money, jobs, and the conservation of wildlife and vegetation. This course examines historical and current trends in the way North Americans recover, appropriate, and represent non-Western people, cultural materials, and natural environments from theoretical and ideological perspectives. Course readings draw from the fields of museology, literature, archeology, anthropology, and environmental studies. Ms. Graham, Ms. Pike-Tay.

Prerequisite: Permission of the director

Two 75-minute periods.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

Permission of the director required.

298a or b. Independent Study (1/2 or 1)

Permission of the director required.


III. Advanced Courses

300a. Senior Thesis or Project (1)

Required of students concentrating in the program.

The senior project is graded Distinction, Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory.

301b. Senior Colloquium (1)

A study of particular forms and concepts, versions and visions of American community at the national and local level. The course is designed to enable students through individual and group projects to explore contested issues and methodological problems in American studies. Ms. Leonard.

Prerequisite: Required of seniors concentrating in the program, open to other students whose concentration makes it appropriate, by permission of the director and as space permits.

One 2-hour period.

313a. Multidisciplinary Research Methods (1/2)

This course is required for all senior American Culture majors. It considers the practical difficulties of applying multidisciplinary approaches to various kinds of American cultural texts. It is intended as preparation for developing the Senior Thesis or Project. Mr. Flad.

Prerequisite: permission of director.

One 75-minute period.

384a. Interpreting American Landscapes: Representations of (1)
Nature and Culture

(Same as Geography 384a) This seminar examines some of the most distinctive cultural landscapes of America from the eighteenth century to the present, including the "wilderness," New England villages, the West, southern plantations and African-American home-yards, the metropolis, suburbia, tourist sites, and other spaces of production and consumption. Using prints, drawings, and photographs in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center as a primary source for understanding nineteenth-century conceptions of landscape depiction, we also incorporate films, maps, city plans, urban views, and literature of the twentieth century. The class includes field trips to representative sites in the Hudson Valley as well as participation in an exhibit of landscape prints and drawings from the Magoon collection. Mr. Flad, Ms. Lucic.

Prerequisite: permission of director.

One 2-hour seminar

387b. Geographies of Modernity in Nineteenth-Century America (1)

(Same as Urban Studies 387) This course explores the transformations in

social space and cultural identity that attended the emergence of modernity in nineteenth-century America. We chart the rise of the city, the public park, the asylum, the train, the factory, the middle-class home, the culture industry, and the continental Nation, as we explore the ways in which selected writers negotiated the ambivalent power of these new spaces of modern life and the new models of subjectivity and interiority that took shape within them. Ms. Graham, Ms. Brawley

Prerequisite: Permission of director

One 2-hour period.