American Culture Program

Director: Randolph Cornelius (Psychology); Steering Committee: Randolph Cornelius (Director), Peter Antelyes (English), Frank Bergon (English), Joy Lei (Education), Eileen Leonard (Sociology), Karen Lucic (Art), Adelaide H. Villmoare (Political Science), Patricia Wallace (English); Panel of Advisors: Randolph Cornelius (Director), 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, Margaretta Downey, Rebecca Edwards (History), Harvey K. Flad (Geography), Paul Kane, Joy Lei, 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 institutions - political, 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

 
105b.   Themes in American Culture
(1)
Youth and Community in American Life is the theme for 2002/03. Using a variety of materials drawn from literature, history, film, and the social and natural sciences, this course examines the tensions between American youth and society in the family, school, religious, and ethnic communities and society at large. Topics to be considered include particular periods in history when the tensions between youth and society were more or less acute, the ways in which youth are represented in various media, the ways in which young people adjust to society, and the ways in which the values of society are transmitted to youth and transformed in the process. Ms. Constantinople, Ms. Trainor.
       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.
 
240a.   Technology and the American Music Industry
(1)
(Same as Anthropology 240) 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.
 
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 2002/03: 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 groups - Native Americans, African Americans, women - who 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: Constructions of Asian America
(1)
This multidisciplinary course examines U.S. culture through an understanding of the social, historical, and structural contexts that shape Asian American identities and experiences. Topics include immigration, legal constructions, racialization, community formations and pan-ethnicity, political and social activism, educational achievement and social mobility, race relations, and intersections of gender, class, and sexuality. Ms. Lei, instructor to be announced.
       Prerequisite: Permission of the director
       Two 75-minute periods.
 
287b.   (Re) Discovering Listening
(1)
(Same as Environmental Studies 287) In this course, a series of recording field trips and workshops put students in touch with their cultural and natural landscapes. It allows them to explore the world of sound and share their discoveries with fellow listeners. Students are trained in the art of field recording, interviewing, writing, editing and producing a radio piece. They are given an oral history assignment as well as a soundscape study. Mr. Cornelius, instructor to be announced.
       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

 
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. Bergon.
       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.
 
[386a.   Producing the Image: American Modernist Experiment and Social Conscience]
(1)
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.
       Not offered in 2002/03.
 
387a.   From the Natural History Museum to Ecotourism
(1)
(Same as Environmental Studies 387) Early endeavors to create a national literature, the rise of the natural history museum and the Bureau of Ethnology, the appropriation of American Indian lands and American Indians (as natural objects) offered white Americans a means to realize their own national identity. Today, archaeology and the ethnographic museum's attachment to issues of identity and possession (the retention or restitution of land, artifacts, and bones) have embroiled First and Third World states, mainstream and minority peoples, in a lively ethical debate. 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. The goal of this course is to investigate historical and current trends in the way North Americans recover, appropriate, and represent non-western people, cultural materials, endangered animals and natural environments from theoretical and ideological perspectives. Course readings draw from the fields of museology, literature, archaeology, anthropology, and environmental studies. Ms. Graham, Ms. Pike-Tay.
       Special permission.
       One 2-hour period.