American Culture

Director: Randolph Cornelius (Psychology); Steering Committee:Randolph Cornelius (Director), Peter Antelyes (English), Frank Bergon (English), Eileen Leonard (Sociology), Karen Lucic (Art), Adelaide H. Villmoare (Political Science), Patricia Wallace (English);Panel of Advisors: Randolph Cornelius (Chair), Lisa Collins (Art), Paul Kane (English), Lizabeth Paravisini–Gebert (Hispanic Studies), Anne Pike–Tay (Anthropology), Robin Trainor (Education);Participating Faculty: Mark Cladis (Religion), Miriam Cohen (History), Anne Constantinople (Psychology), Randolph Cornelius, Margarette Downey, Rebecca Edwards (History), Harvey K. Flad (Geography), Paul Kane, Eileen Leonard, Karen Lucic, Thomas McGlinchey, Paul Russell (English), Patricia Wallace.

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; and the Seminar in American Culture (250).

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


I. Introductory

105a. Themes in American Culture (1)

Mormons in America is the theme for 2001/02. 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. The nature of the writing submissions is specified beforehand in flyers distributed to students through the Program office. Ms. Downey.

Not open to first–year students.

Deadline for submission of writing samples one week after October break.

Admission by permission of the instructor.

One 2–hour period.

231a. Field Archaeology (1) 
(Same as Anthropology 231 and Environmental Studies 231)

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 2001/02: 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 America (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. Leonard and instructor to be announced.

Special permission.

Two 75–minute periods.

283b. It's Only Natural: Spirituality and Contemplation in the American Landscape (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 283) This course examines the ways in which Americans have approached the natural world as both a source of revelation and an object of contemplation. Drawing on a wide range of literary and religious texts, we explore the shifting relations between concepts of the natural, the human, and the divine in the American experience. Authors to be discussed may include Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, Black Elk, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, and others. In addition to readings we will consider the American landscape tradition in painting, primarily the work of those artists associated with the Hudson River School and with Luminism in the nineteenth century. We will also make several field trips to local sites. Techniques of contemplation will play a part in the course. Mr. Cladis, Mr. Kane.

Prerequisite: Special permission.

One 3–hour period.

281 Terrorism (1/2)

(Same as International Studies 281) This course examines the roots and consequences of terrorist activities. Particular attention is given to the psychological , historical, cultural, political, and economic aspects of terrorism. Mr. Kennett, Mr. Stillman

One 2-hour period.

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. Mr. Flad.

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. Cornelius.

Prerequisite: permission of director.

One 75–minute period.

381b. Gender, Class, and Region (1)

(Same as Women's Studies 381) This course examines the interactions of social class and region with the ideology and practice of gender in American history and culture. We assume that region and social class affect gender expression, but we also explore the ways in which the ideology and practice of gender may affect regional distinctions. An initial exploration of these concepts is followed by an analysis of particular moments in American history when gender, class, and region have intersected: just before and after the Civil War, at the turn of the century, and the 1950s. For each period, efforts are made to distinguish prescription and ideology from the actual practice of gender distinctions in behavior. The final three weeks of the course are devoted to the contemporary scene, looking for both continuities and discontinuities in the influence of class and region on our practice of gender. Miss Constantinople, Ms. Edwards.

Special Permission

One 2–hour period.

385b. The Southwest: Art, Ethnicity, and Environment (1)

(Same as Art and Geography 385b.) An examination of the impact of place upon the three major culture groupsNative American, Hispanic American and Anglo–Americanthat coexist in the southwestern United States. The course studies selected examples of painting, crafts, architecture, photography, and literature which illustrate regional and ethnic identities. A diversity of landscapes from desert, canyon, and mountain wilderness to pueblo villages, traditional cities, such as Santa Fe, and modern urban sprawl are also considered. Changing expression of social and environmental values in the twentieth century towards nature, progress, and ethnic history and identity are contested in issues, such as: historic preservation, water resources, nuclear power, and the transformation of social and political boundaries. Mr. Flad, Ms. Lucic.

Special Permission

One 2–hour period.

386a. Producing the Image: American Modernist Experiment and (1)

Social Conscience

In the first half of the twentieth century, America saw the growth of a number of social movements, including the mobilization of labor, women and minorities, and the development of new political institutions such as the making of the American welfare state. The period also saw the development of an American modernism, characterized by wide–sweeping artistic experimentation in both technique and subject matter, including the use of the new technologies of photography and cinema. While American modernism can be described as a period of artistic experimentation, it was also a period when many artists were deeply concerned with the social issues of the day, and saw their art as commenting on, intervening, and at times attempting to transform society. This course studies ways in which modernist images reflect and participate in the social constructions of class, race and gender, and also reconfigure (represent) those images. Whether or not the image is produced by the camera, the movie projector, the paintbrush, the typewriter, collage, or any number of other media, it is the image which is at the heart of the modernist aesthetic and which binds many artists to a social world and to an era they hoped to transform.

Course materials include the work of photographers, painters and muralists, filmmakers, novelists, poets, theorists and historians. We study such artists as Lewis Hine, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin, William Carlos Williams, such theorists as Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, and a number of social, cultural and political historians of the period. Ms. Cohen, Ms. Wallace.

Special Permission.

One 2–hour seminar.