American Culture Program

Director: Eileen Leonard (Sociology); Steering Committee: Eileen Leonard (Chair), Frank Bergon (English), Wendy Graham (English), Joy Lei (Education), Thuy Linh Tu (Mellon PostDoc), Patricia Wallace (English); Panel of Advisors: Eileen Leonard (Chair), Andrew Bush (Hispanic Studies), Lisa Collins (Art), Rebecca Edwards (History), Paul Kane (English), Jennifer Ma (Psychology), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Hispanic Studies), Robin Trainor (Education); Participating Faculty: Lee Bernstein (Visiting), Lisa Brawley (Urban Studies), Andy Bush (Hispanic Studies), Randy Cornelius (Psychology), Margaretta Downey (Visiting), Rebecca Edwards, Wendy Graham, Joy Lei, Eileen Leonard, Peter Leonard (Field Work), Thomas McGlinchey, James Metzner (Visiting), MacDonald, Moore, Joel Smith (Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center), Thuy Linh Tu (Mellon Post Doc), Adelaide Villmoare (Political Science), Patricia Wallace (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 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. Students interested in pursuing a concentration in ethnic studies within American Culture should consult with the Director. (For example, a list of Asian American Studies courses and interested faculty has been prepared and is available in the American Culture Office.)

Requirements for Concentration: 16 units, including (1) the Seminar in American Culture; (2) at least 2 units of special studies in American Culture (American Culture 280 or 380 courses); (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:Getting and Giving in American Culture (1)

Iindividualism and private enterprise are widely recognized as hallmarks of American culture. The purpose of this course is to examine those mores and their counterparts, collectivism and philanthropy, as they are reflected in American history and the enduring institutions that support both public and private enterprises. Such topics as volunteerism, faith-based initiatives, the rights to and responsibilities of wealth, and philanthropy as a citizen's duty in a democracy mat be considered. Particular attention is given to the enactment of philanthropy in diverse communities, including the community of Vassar College. A willingness to reflect on one's own role as both a giver and getter enhances the work of the course. Ms. Constantinople and Mr. McGlinchey.

Open to freshmen and sophomores only.

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.

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 2004/05: Silver and Gold: Politics and Culture in Gilded Age America. This course focuses on money as a thematic tool for understanding the tension between progress and poverty in post-Civil War America. Americans of the era debated the very definition of money as they wrestled with the implementation of a new banking system and a high protective tariff, a prolonged crisis in the rural economy, and increasing use of abstract assets and debts such as stocks, bonds, and mortgages. Many contrasted the desperation of urban laborers with the luxuries of a new millionaire class. With the end of slavery, would wage labor provide the new standard of value? In the industrial economy, which practices were fair and which should be outlawed? In a burgeoning consumer economy, how would non-pecuniary standards of value be conserved? Our approach enables us to cover regional perspectives and to deal with issues of class, race, and gender in a variety of contexts, roughly covering the years from 1870 to 1900. Contemporary texts include selections from such authors as Mark Twain, Henry Adams, Henry George, Thorstein Veblen, Edith Wharton, Willliam Dean Howells, Charles Chesnutt, Frank Norris, Henry James, and Theodore Dreiser. The course also draws on the work of such historians as Richard Bensel, Ronald Takaki, William Cronon, Barbara Fields, and David Montgomery. Ms. Edwards, Ms. Graham.

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)

(Same as Urban Studies 275) 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, Mr. Bernstein.

Special permission.

Two 75-minute periods.

285a. New York in Film and Photography (1)

(Same as Urban Studies 285) In the twentieth century, successive schools of photographers and filmmakers made New York City a hub of activity and an ever-new subject of inquiry: an emblem of modernity’s promise and a mirror of cultural dysfunction. Lectures, site-related field trips, and weekly film screenings are complemented by literary and historical readings and study of works in the collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. Mr. Moore, Mr. Smith.

Two 75-minute periods.

Special Permission.

288a. Culture and Killing (1)

This course examines various forms of killing, responses to them, and the cultural contexts within which people give them meaning. Killing is memorialized, celebrated, condemned depending on the socio- political circumstances surrounding it; we explore ways in which Americans bear witness to the violent end of life. The course studies race, class, and gender dimensions of lynching, group and individual murder, and state execution at different historical moments. Ms. Villmoare, Mr. McGlinchey.

Special Permission

One 2-hour period.

[289a. Pop and Politics in Asian America] (1)

Asian Americans have historically had a complicated relationship to American popular culture, which has generated and sustained various myths and stereotypes-from the Dragon Lady and Fu Manchu to Charlie Chan and the Japanese whiz kid-about their “racial characteristics.” However, particularly in the last few decades, Asian Americans have also engaged with popular culture in complex ways-consumed, reused, reimagined, and presented alternatives to its practices and images-that have allowed them to create new forms of leisure, modes of individual and collective representation, and new avenues for political contestation. Using a variety of theoretical tools and “case studies,” this course addresses the relationship between Asian American culture and the “popular” in its various forms and practices (including: music, film, print media, and performance) and in its various spaces (including: dancehalls, car clubs, and city streets). In this course we also consider how the recent popularization of transnational Asian cultural forms and practices (from anime to Bollywood, and yoga to acupuncture) has shaped these Asian American cultural productions and popular ideas of “Asianess” more generally. Ms. Tu.

Two 75-minute periods.

Special Permission.

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. Brawley.

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.

383a. Asian-American Feminisms (1)

This course takes the idea and practice of an Asian American Feminism as both its starting point and framework. We first examine pivotal struggles and modes of organizing. With this material mastered, we question whether such a thing as Asian American Feminism is possible, its relationship to other movements involving people of color and finally, the place of Asian American women in an international feminist framework. The class uses a combination of academic work, personal writings, and guest speakers to examine three separate, but related components: Asian American Feminism, Feminism of Color and International Feminism. Ms. Varghese.

Special Permission.

385b. American Friendships (1)

This course undertakes to question the fundamental terms of individual and community through an examination of a middle position, a dual voice, most audible in the theorization and experience of friendship, which is to say the course moves the implicit focus on politics to questions of ethics. The discussion begins, then, in the field of philosophy, returning to the Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle as a point of departure, followed by a consideration of contemporary philosophical approaches, such as Jacque Derrida’s work on the politics of friendships. From these bases one takes up the relevant text of the founding figure of American philosophy, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Friendship, thereby entering fully into American materials. From there the philosophical framework opens out in two principal directions: sociology, especially as represented in the research of Ronald Sharp, now Dean of the Faculty at Vassar, and literature, including works by Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Lillian Helman and Alice Walker, and such films as Thelma and Louise and Clint Eastwood’s recent version of The Unforgiven. Mr. Bush, Mr. Leonard.

Special Permission.

One 2-hour period.

[386a. American Modernism: Aesthetics and Social Conscience, 1929-1945] (1)

During the crises of the Great Depression and World War II, America saw the growth of a number of social movements, including the mobilization of labor, women and minorities, and the development of new social and political institutions. American modernism during this period was characterized by wide-sweeping experimentation but it was also a time when many artists were deeply concerned with the social issues of the day. They 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 Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, William Carlos William, Charlie Chaplin, the photographer Esther Bubley, such theorists as Theodor Adorno and Roland Barthes and a number of social, cultural and political historians of the period. Ms. M. Cohen, Ms.Wallace.

Special Pemission.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2004/05.