Urban Studies Program

Director: Leonard Nevarez (Sociology); Steering Committee: Nicholas Adams (Art), Pinar Batur (Sociology), Lisa Brawley (English), Heesok Chang (English), Brian Godfrey (Geography), Timothy Koechlin (International Studies), Erin McCloskey (Education), Thomas Porcello (Anthropology), Tyrone Simpson (English); Participating Faculty: John Clarke (Town Planner), Miriam Cohen (History), Lisa Gail Collins (Art), Shira Epstein (Education), Harvey Flad (Geography), Peter Leonard (Field Work), Kerrita Mayfield (Education), Lydia Murdoch (History), Linta Varghese (Anthropology).

The Urban Studies Program is designed as a multidisciplinary concentration in the study of cities and urbanization. Students examine the development of cities and their surrounding regions; the role of cities in the history of civilization; the social problems of urban life; the design of the built environment; and past and present efforts at planning for the future of urban societies. There are four major purposes of the program: (1) to introduce students to a temporal range and spatial variety of urban experience and phenomena; (2) to equip students with methodological tools to enable them to investigate and analyze urban issues; (3) to engage students experientially in a facet of the urban experience; and (4) to develop within the student a deeper grasp of these issues through advanced study within at least two disciplinary approaches.

Requirements for Concentration:

  1. 14 units, including Introduction to Urban Studies (100), one unit of Urban Theory and the Senior Seminar.
  2. One unit of Research Methods appropriate to the student’s concentration in Urban Studies, chosen from Anthropology 245, Art 102-103, Art 275/276, Economics 209, Geography 220, Geography 222, Mathematics 141, Political Science 207, or Psychology 200, or Sociology 254.
  3. Disciplinary Cluster. Four units at the 200-level, with 2 units taken from two separate disciplinary areas related to Urban Studies, i.e., Architecture, Art, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, Sociology, etc., including other Multi-disciplinaries. In addition, two units at the 300-level, from two separate disciplines, reflecting the intellectual path set by the 200-level courses.
  4. Urban Studies Cluster. Two units at the 200-level, originating in Urban Studies or cross-listed with Urban Studies.
  5. One unit of fieldwork.

Senior Thesis. One unit, two semester length requirement, to be considered for honors in Urban Studies. Majors will have the option of taking one additional 300 level course, instead of the Senior thesis, in the disciplinary concentration or in Urban Studies.

Recommendations for the Major:

  1. Foreign Language. Competency through the third year college level, as demonstrated by completion of the relevant courses or examination.
  2. Structured Study Away Experience. This is especially recommended for those who are interested in architecture and/or global, historical and comparative issues, and area studies.
  3. Outside of Major Course work. This includes Introduction to Macroeconomics and Introduction to Microeconomics, study of aesthetics, ethics and social and political philosophy, and study of theories of confrontation and liberation, concentrating on class movements, critical race theory, anti-racism, feminist theory, queer theory and environmental theory.

Requirements for Correlate Sequence: Six units including Urban Studies 100, which should be taken no later than the Junior year, one unit of Urban Studies 200, two 200-level courses, reflecting the concentration of the student in the Urban Studies correlate, two 300-level courses in accordance with the intellectual path set by the 200-level work. No more than two transfer units may be credited towards the sequence. No more than one unit may overlap with the major.

After declaration of the major or correlate sequence, no NRO work will be permissible or applicable to the major.

I. Core Courses

100a and b. Introduction to Urban Studies (1)

This course is an introduction to the debates on historical alteration of urban space and its cross cultural expressions. By concentrating on urban contradictions, topics include formation and perpetuation of hierarchy in space, and its political, economic social and cultural manifestations and contesting movements. The specific requirements of the course entail study of the debates, including their methodology, with an emphasis on the connection between theory and research. The course is coordinated by one faculty member in cooperation with the Urban Studies Program faculty. The department.

200a and b. Urban Theory (1)

This course reviews the development of theories regarding human behavior in cities and the production of space. The course spans the twentieth century, from the industrial city to the themed spaces of contemporary cities. Literature and topics examined to include the German school, urban ecology, debates in planning and architecture, political economy, and the cultural turns in urban studies. Ms. Brawley.

Prerequisite: Urban Studies 100.

213a. Urban Planning and Practice (1)

An introduction to planning and practice. Course examines successful and unsuccessful cases of urban and regional planning events, compares and evaluates current growth management techniques, and explores a wide variety of planning methods and standards. Topics include citizen participation, goal setting, state and local land use management approaches, environmental protection measures, affordable housing strategies, transportation, and urban design. Mr. Clarke.

218a. Urban Economics (1)

(Same as Economics 218) The department.

Prerequisite: Economics 101.

245a. Ethnographer’s Craft (1)

(Same as Anthropology 245)Ms. Varghese.

[250b. Urban Geography] (1)

(Same as Geography 250) Mr. Godfrey.

Not offered in 2008/09.

252b. Race, Representation and Resistance (1)

(Same as Education 252) Instructor to be announced.

254b. Victorian Britain (1)

(Same as History 254) Ms. Murdoch.

[261b. “The Nuclear Cage”: Environmental Theory and Nuclear Power] (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 261 and Sociology 261)

Not offered in 2008/09.

[266b. The American City: Understanding Life in the Urban Maze] (1)

This course attempts to combat the profound disorientation that the American city causes its observers by offering a sustained exercise in urban cognitive mapping. Spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre advises that a tripartite anatomization of the city is necessary to diminish the extent to which the metropole may mystify those who confront it. He encourages students to understand how the city has been conceived, perceived, and lived. The course adheres to Lefebrve’s recommendations by first exploring the theory and mission that underwrote the city’s emergence. Students become familiar with what forces led to urban agglomerations and what plans enabled the birth of metropolitan spaces. Second, students review the writings of a broad range of interlocutors from whom the city motivated comment. Mr. Simpson.

Not offered in 2008/09.

[269b. Shades of the Urban] (1)

This course on the twentieth century urban American novel would richly contextualize works such as Call It Sleep (1934, Henry Roth), If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945, Chester Himes), and Bodega Dreams (2000, Ernesto Quinonez) to demonstrate the parallel phenomena (mass culture, exploited labor, social stigma, spatial and psychic claustrophobia) various working class ethnic communities have encountered while negotiating the challenges of urban life and assimilation into American society. Mr. Simpson.

Not offered in 2008/09.

[276b. Gender and Social Space] (1)

(Same as Women Studies 276) This course explores the ways in which gender informs the spatial organization of daily life; the interrelation of gender and key spatial forms and practices such as the home, the city, the hotel, migration, shopping, community activism, and walking at night. It draws on feminist theoretical work from diverse fields such as geography, architecture, anthropology and urban studies not only to begin to map the gendered divisions of the social world but also to understand gender itself as a spatial practice. Ms. Brawley.

Not offered in 2008/09.

277b. The Making of the “American Century,” 1890 – 1945 (1)

(Same as History 277) Ms. Cohen.

284a. Urban Political Economy (1)

(Same as International Studies 284).

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

Individual projects through field work office, under supervision of one of the participating instructors. May be elected during the college year or during the summer. Special permission. Unscheduled.

300a. and 301b. Senior Thesis (1)

A thesis written in two semesters for one unit. The Program.

340b. Advanced Urban and Regional Studies (1)

(Same as Geography 340b) Topic for 2008/09: Main Street and Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie, New York and the Mid-Hudson River Valley. The history of small urban centers throughout America has been one of eras of growth and decline in response to local, regional and national social and economic forces. In this seminar we examine the local urban realm as a useful model for such urban trends as the changing nature of ethnic neighborhood composition during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; industrial expansion and later downsizing, especially as reflected at IBM; growth and decline of central business district functions such as retail on Main Street in the late twentieth century; developments in transportation modes and facilities, such as the auto-centered suburban landscape and shopping malls; public and private housing; and local responses to federal Model Cities and urban renewal programs. Local examples are also related to other cities in the region, especially with regard to twenty-first century efforts at revitalization. We take field trips throughout Poughkeepsie and its suburbs to study the changing cultural landscape. Mr. Flad.

[345b. African American Migrations: Movement, Creativity, Struggle, and Change] (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 345) Ms. Collins.

Not offered in 2008/09.

[350a. New York City as a Social Laboratory] (1)

In a classic essay on urban studies, sociologist Robert Park once called the city “a laboratory or clinic in which human nature and social processes may be conveniently and profitably studied.” The scale, dynamism, and complexity of New York City make it a social laboratory without equal. This seminar provides a multidisciplinary inquiry into New York City as a case study in selected urban issues. Classroom meetings are combined with the field-based investigations that are a hallmark of Urban Studies. Site visits in New York City allow meetings with scholars, officials, developers, community leaders and others actively involved in urban affairs. Topics for the seminar may change from year to year, in which case the course may be repeated for credit.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

[352b. The City in Fragments] (1)

(Same as Media Studies 352) In this seminar, we use the concept of the fragment to explore the contemporary city, and vice versa. We draw on the work of Walter Benjamin, for whom the fragment was both a central symptom of urban modernity and a potentially radical mode of inquiry. We also use the figure of the fragment to explore and to experiment with the situationist urbanism of Guy Debord, to address the failure of modernist dreams for the city, and to reframe the question of the “global” in contemporary discussions of global urbanization. Finally, we use the fragment to destabilize notions of experience and evidence—so central to positivist understandings of the city—as we make regular visits to discover, as it were, non-monumental New York. Readings include works by Walter Benjamin, Stefano Boeri, Christine Boyer, Guy Debord, Rosalyb Deytsche, Paul Gilroy, Rem Koolhaas, Henri Lefebvre, Thomas Lacquer, Saskia Sassen, Mark Wigley, and others. Ms. Brawley, Mr. Chang.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

366b. Vision and Critique in the Black Arts and Women’s Art Movements (1)

(Same as Art 366) Ms. Collins.

367b. Urban Education Reform (1)

(Same as Education 367) Instructor to be announced.

Prerequisite: Education 235 or permission of instructor

One 2-hour period.

370a. Seminar in Architectural History (1)

(Same as Art 370) Topic for 2008/09: Scandinavian Modernism. Swedish architecture stands apart from the major developments of central European modernism. Architects such as Gunnar Asplund are seduced by the new modern architecture that they discover in central Europe, but they adapt and transform it to local social and environmental conditions. We examine the importance of the Stockholm Exhibition (1930) and its influence on developments in architecture, the role of Cooperative Society movement, housing policies and practices, urban and city planning, as well as the development of social democracy. Our main focus is the work of Gunnar Asplund and his “conversion” from traditionalist to modernist. Along with architecture, we also examine the role of film, music, and literature in the formation of national identity. Mr. Adams.

373b. Adolescent Literacy (1)

(Same as Education 373) This course combines research, theory and practice in the context of an urban middle school.  Concurrently with tutoring a student, we engage in case study research about the literacies our students accept and resist in the various disciplines. We define literacy broadly and look at how school literacy compares and contrasts to the literacies valued and in use in contexts outside of school.  We explore how literacy learning is constructed through methods and curriculum with a special emphasis on the diversities at play in middle and high school classrooms.  Conceptual understandings of knowledge, strategies that support attaining that knowledge and the role of motivation in learning are emphasized. Ms. McCloskey.

380b. Poughkeepsie Institute (1)

This course is limited to five Vassar students working in a cooperative study with students and faculty from The Culinary Institute of America, Dutchess Community College, Marist College, New Paltz, and Vassar College. The class meets on Wednesday evenings from 4:00 to 7:00 PM at the Children’s Media Project, on Academy Street in Poughkeepsie. The topics for the Institute may change from year to year in which case the course may be repeated for credit.

Topic for 2008/09: Community in Poughkeepsie. At a time when there is a perception that community is diminishing, or at least changing, both locally and nationally, the Poughkeepsie Institute offers a course that documents ways in which people in Poughkeepsie form social configurations. We examine schools, religious congregations, political issues, human service needs, sports and even restaurants, street life and parks. There is also an effort to uncover connections among these various forms of social energy. We issue a report back to the community in the form of 40-page written document and a 12-15 minute video that includes policy recommendations.  This is presented at an end of the semester press conference as well as a presentation to the Mayor and City Council of Poughkeepsie. Mr. Leonard.

Special Permission.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

Limited to five students per college.

386a. Senior Seminar (1)

This course concentrates on advanced debates in Urban Studies and is designed to encourage students to produce research/grant proposals for projects in Urban Studies. Topics vary according to instructor. This seminar is required of all Urban Studies majors.

Topic for 2008/09: Musical Urbanism. How is the urban experience represented aesthetically? How do cities sustain artistic milieus and cultural production? What is genuinely “local” about local culture? This seminar takes these questions up through the case of twentieth century popular music and related cultural expressions and media. We inquire into the complex and dynamic relationships between (cultural) urbanism and (spatial, economic, demographic) urbanization by examining the urban dimensions of popular music—its inspiration, production, transmission, consumption, and appreciation—as documented by social research, literary fiction, film, and sound recordings. Additionally, we investigate the complementarities and tensions of empirical, literary, and critical methods to knowing and representing the city. Mr. Nevarez, Mr. Chang.

Prerequisite: Special permission.

389a. City/Palace and Society in the Ancient Mediterranean (1)

(same as Classics 389a.)

390b. Mapping the Middle Landscape: Planned Community (1)

Today a majority of Americans lives, works and shops in what Peter Rowe called "the middle landscape," the suburban and exurban area between city and countryside. This seminar investigates one of the middle landscape's most peculiar spatial products, namely the master planned community. The investigation focuses on the physical environment as well as the general attitudes, fears and economic forces that shaped it. Mr. Armborst.

II. Independent Work

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

Individual project of reading or research, under supervision of one of the participating instructors.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

Independent project of reading or research under supervision of one of the participating instructors.