American Culture Program

Director: Lisa Camille Brawley; Nursery School Director: Julie A Riess (); Professors: Andrew Busha (Hispanic Studies), Gabrielle H. Cody (Drama), Miriam Cohen (History), Randolph R. Cornelius (Psychology), Rebecca B. Edwardsab (History), Maria Höhn (History), William Hoynesa (Sociology), Eileen Leonard (Sociology), Karen Lucic (Art), James Merrellab (History), Marque-Luisa Miringoff (Sociology), Adelaide Villmoare (Political Science), Patricia Wallace (English); Associate Professors: Peter Antelyesb (English), Abigail A. Baird (Psychology), Lisa Gail Collinsa (Art), Wendy Graham (English), E.H. Rick Jarowab (Religion), Kathleen J. Man (Film), Robert E. McAulaya (Sociology), Leonard Nevarez (Sociology), Joseph Nevinsa (Earth Science and Geography), Robert Rebelein (Economics); Assistant Professors: Carlos Alamo-Pastranab (Sociology), Eve Dunbar (English), Sarita McCoy Gregory (Political Science), Hua Hsu (English), Jonathon S. Kahn (Religion), Kiese Laymon (English), Erin McCloskey (Education), Molly S. McGlennenb (English), Tyrone Simpson II (English), Laura Yowb (English); Adjunct Associate Professors: Dean Crawford (English), Judith Nichols (English); Adjunct Assistant Professors: Kristin Sanchez Carter (Women's Studies), Judith Linn (Art); Adjunct Instructor: Kathleen M McNulty (American Culture); Post Doctoral Fellow: Lalla Khadija Fritsch-El Alaoui (American Culture); Senior Lecturers: Lisa Camille Brawley (Urban Studies), Timothy Koechlin (Urban Studies).

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 steering committee. Students interested in pursuing a concentration in ethnic studies within American culture should consult with the director.

Requirements for Concentration: 14 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) Multidisciplinary Research Methods; (8) 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 (302/303); Senior Colloquium (301); and Multidisciplinary Research Methods (313).

Correlate Sequence in Native American Studies

The American Culture Program offers a correlate sequence in Native American Studies, a multi- and interdisciplinary field, in which students examine Indigenous cultures, politics, histories, and literatures, in a primarily North American context.  Students electing the correlate sequence are trained in the methodology of Native American Studies as a means to critically assess western colonial discourses, examine the many ways Native peoples have contributed to and shaped North American culture, and analyze and honor the autonomy and sovereignty of Indigenous nations, peoples, and thought.  Students pursuing a correlate in Native American Studies are required to complete a minimum of 6 units including Introduction to Native American Studies (AMCL 105) and at least one 300-level course. 

Each year, the American Culture Program will provide an updated list of approved courses for the Native American Studies correlate sequence.  From this course list, students define an appropriate course of study, which must be approved by the American Culture Program Director and a Correlate Sequence advisor prior to declaration.  Additional courses may be approved for the Correlate Sequence upon petition to the Program Director. Students are encouraged, but not required, to complete one unit of work outside of the Vassar classroom (fieldwork, summer program, study away).  A maximum of two units of ungraded work may be counted toward the Correlate Sequence.

I. Introductory

105a. Themes in American Culture (1)

Topic for 2010/11: Introduction to Native American Studies. This course is a multi-and interdisciplinary introduction to the basic philosophies, ideologies, and methodologies of the discipline of Native American Studies. It acquaints students with the history, art, literature, sociology, linquistics, politics, and epistemology according to an indigenous perspective while utilizing principles stemming from vast and various Native North American belief systems and cultural frameworks. Through reading assignments, films, and discussions, we learn to objectively examine topics such as orality, sovereignty, stereotypes, humor, language, resistance, spirituality, activism, identity, tribal politics, and environment among others. Overall, we work to problematize historical, ethnographical, and literary representations of Native people as a means to assess and evaluate western discourses of domination; at the same time, we focus on the various ways Native people and nations, both in their traditional homelands and urban areas, have been and are triumphing over 500+ years of colonization through acts of survival and continuance. Ms. McGlennen.

Open to freshmen and sophomores only.

Two 75-minute periods.

179a. Major Author: Thoreau (1/2)

(Same as English 179a) Mr. Peck.

180a. On Modern Violence (1)

We live in violent times. This course explores contemporary forms of violence, and how various thinkers and scholars explain why not all deaths move us in the same way. Some of the questions the course addresses include: What is modern violence? When is violence permissible and when is it not? Are the existing norms responsible for our selective approval of some forms of violence and for our rejection of others? Why are some cultures and religions more easily linked with death and violence than others? What explains the lack of horror at all kinds of violence? Is there a way to break out of the common acceptance of violence and imagine instead conditions supportive of calls for justice and human dignity? Ms. Fritsch El-Alaoui.

Open only to freshmen; satisfies college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

II. Intermediate

205. Arab American Literature (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 205b.) Mr. Mhiri.

212b. The Press in America (1)

This course examines the media's role in our changing world, covering different journalism venues, including the Web. It looks closely at what role ethics play in the news media, other related media, and how those roles are changing quickly with technology. Students research these issues, and report and write different types of stories, such as news, features, and commentary. They also visit the newsroom of a daily newspaper and meet with news professionals about the important transitions that are happening in the news business and how it affects their jobs. 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. Norton-McNulty.

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 2011/12a: America in the World. This course focuses on current debates in American Studies about resituating the question of "America" in global terms. We explore the theoretical and political problems involved in such a reorientation of the field as we examine topics such as American militarization and empire, American involvement in global monetary organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, the question of a distinctive national and international American culture, foreign perspectives on American and "Americanization," and the global significance of American popular culture including film and music such as hip-hop. Mr. Kahn, Mr. Simpson.

Required of students concentrating in the program. Generally 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.

257. Reorienting America: Asians in American History and Society (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 257 and Sociology 257) Ms. Moon.

260b. Native American Women (1)

In an effort to subjugate indigenous nations, colonizing and Christianizing enterprises in the Americas included the implicit understanding that subduing Native American women through rape and murder maintained imperial hierarchies of gender and power; this was necessary to eradicate Native people's traditional egalitarian societies and uphold the colonial agenda. Needless to say, Native women's stories and histories have been inaccurately portrayed, often tainted with nostalgia and delivered through a lens of western patriarchy and discourses of domination. Through class readings and writing assignments, discussions and films, this course examines Native women's lives by considering the intersections of sex, class, and race through indigenous frameworks. We expose Native women's various cultural worldviews in order to reveal and assess the importance of indigenous women's voices to national and global issues such as sexual violence, environmentalism, and health. The class also takes into consideration the shortcomings of western feminisms in relation to the realities of Native women and Native people's sovereignty in general. Areas of particular importance to this course are indigenous women's urban experience, Haudenosaunee influence on early U.S. suffragists, indigenous women in the creative arts, third-gender/two-spiritedness, and Native women's traditional and contemporary roles as cultural carriers. Ms. McGlennen.

Not offered in 2009/10

261b. Native American Urban Experience (1)

(Same as Urban Studies 261) Over half of all Native American people living in the United States now live in an urban area. The United States federal policies of the 1950's brought thousands of Indigenous peoples to cities with the promise of jobs and a better life. Like so many compacts made between the United States and Native tribes, these agreements were rarely realized. Despite the cultural, political, and spiritual losses due to Termination and Relocation policies, Native American people have continued to survive and thrive in complex ways. This course examines the experiences of Indigenous peoples living in urban areas since the 1950's. In particular, we look at the pan-tribal movement, AIM, Red Power, education, powwowing, social and cultural centers, two-spiritedness, religious movements, and the arts. We also study the manner in which different Native urban communities have both adopted western ways and recuperated specific cultural and spiritual traditions in order to build and nurture Native continuance. Ms. McGlennen.

262a. Native American Women (1)

(Same as Women's Studies 262a.) In an effort to subjugate indigenous nations, colonizing and Christianizing enterprises in the Americas included the implicit understanding that subduing Native American women through rape and murder maintained imperial hierarchies of gender and power; this was necessary to eradicate Native people's traditional egalitarian societies and uphold the colonial agenda. Needless to say, Native women's stories and histories have been inaccurately portrayed, often tainted with nostalgia and delivered through a lens of western patriarchy and discourses of domination. Through class readings and writing assignments, discussions and films, this course examines Native women's lives by considering the intersections of gender and race through indigenous frameworks. We expose Native women's various cultural worldviews in order to reveal and assess the importance of indigenous women's voices to national and global issues such as sexual violence, environmentalism, and health. The class also takes into consideration the shortcomings of western feminisms in relation to the realities of Native women and Native people's sovereignty in general. Areas of particular importance to this course are indigenous women's urban experience, Haudenosaunee influence on early U.S. suffragists, indigenous women in the creative arts, third-gender/two-spiritedness, and Native women's traditional and contemporary roles as cultural carriers. Ms. McGlennen.

Two 75-minute meetings

Not offered in 2011-12.

275b. Ethnicity and Race in America: Whiteness (1)

This course examines "white" American identity as a cultural location and a discourse with a history—in Mark Twain's terms, "a fiction of law and custom." What are the origins of "Anglo-Saxon" American identity? What are the borders, visible and invisible, against which this identity has leveraged position and power? How have these borders shifted over time, and in social and cultural space? How has whiteness located itself at the center of political, historical, social, and literary discourse, and how has it been displaced? How does whiteness mark itself, or mask itself? What does whiteness look like, sound like, and feel like from the perspective of the racial "other"? What happens when we consider whiteness as a racial or ethnic category? And in what ways do considerations of gender and class complicate these other questions? We read works by artists, journalists, and critics, among them Bill Finnegan, Benjamin DeMott, Lisa Lowe, David Roediger, George Lipsitz, Roland Barthes, Chela Sandoval, Eric Lott, bell hooks, Cherríe Moraga, Ruth Frankenberg, James Baldwin, Homi Bhabha, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, James Weldon Johnson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Faulkner, Nathanael West, Alice Walker, and Don DeLillo. We also explore the way whiteness is deployed, consolidated and critiqued in popular media like film (Birth of a NationPulp FictionPleasantville) television ("reality" shows, The West Wing) and the American popular press.

Two 75-minute periods.

281b. Provincializing the U.S. (1)

Is it conceivable to look at American ways of understanding the world and being in it as one tradition among many others? Is such recognition possible within the powerful forces of modernity, nationalism and universalism? If so, might such recognition challenge the necessity of globalization and wars on the scale as we know them now? Might it also re-open alternative ways of being human? This course considers these questions from a theoretical perspective by drawing on Dipesh Chakrabarty's Provincializing Europe and Ashis Nandy' Talking India. Reading Arab and Iranian novelists and poets and listening to Arab hip hop artists, this class explores the insights they offer into the possibility of other ways of being in, and seeing, the world. Ms. Fritsch El-Alaoui.

Two 75-minute meetings.

282. US-Mexico Border: Nation, God, & Human Rights in AZ-Sonora (1)

288a. American Alienation in Fiction, Film, and Photography (1)

This course traces several peculiarly American forms of cultural alienation and discontent. Questions addressed include whether some degree of estrangement is necessary to artistic vision and motivation, how we can detect when an artist's alienation is aesthetic or political in origin, whether disaffection is crucial to a comic perspective, when alienation is liberating and when it is shuttering, and under what circumstances artistic isolation tips toward a dangerous psychological state. We read such novels as On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and Angels by Denis Johnson; discuss such films as VertigoThe Big HeatThe Night of the HunterRebel Without a CauseThe SearchersClose Encounters of the Third KindIce Storm, and Factotum; and view the photography of Diane Arbus, Gregory Crewdson, Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, William Eggleston, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Dan Weiner. Students are invited to present twenty-minute oral reports on alienation fictions, films and photographers of their choice not otherwise covered in the course. Mr. Crawford.

Two 75-minute meetings.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

Permission of the director required

297. Readings in American Culture (1/2)

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

Permission of the director required.

III. Advanced

301b. Senior Colloquium (1)

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

Topic for 2010/11: To be announced.

Prerequisite: Required of seniors concentrating in the program.

Special Permission.

One 2-hour period.

302a. Senior Thesis or Project (1/2)

Required of students concentrating in the program.

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

Year-long course, 302-303.

303b. Senior Thesis or Project (1/2)

Required of students concentrating in the program.

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

Year-long course, 302-303.

313a. Multidisciplinary Research Methods (1)

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. Hsu.

Prerequisite: permission of director.

One 2-hour period.

366b. Seminar in African American Art and Cultural History (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 366b and Art 366b)

Topic for 2010/11b: Creativity and Politics During the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. Focusing on the experiences and representations of African Americans in the U.S., this seminar examines the arts, institutions, and ideas of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and New Deal projects of the 1930s and 1940s. Analyzing paintings, sculptures, photographs, novels, folk arts, murals, illustrations, manifestos, films, performances, and various systems of patronage, we explore relationships between art, politics, and society. Ms. Collins.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2010/11.

367b. Artists' Books from the Women's Studio Workshop (1)

(Same as Art 367 and Women's Studies 367) In this interdisciplinary seminar, we explore the limited edition artists' books created through the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York. Founded in 1974, the Women's Studio Workshop encourages the voice and vision of individual women artists, and women artists associated with the workshop have, since 1979, created over 180 hand-printed books using a variety of media, including hand-made paper, letterpress, silkscreen, photography, intaglio, and ceramics. Vassar College recently became an official repository for this vibrant collection which, in the words of the workshop's co-founder, documents "the artistic activities of the longest continually operating women's workspace in the country." Working directly with the artists' books, this seminar will meet in Vassar Library's Special Collections and closely investigate the range of media, subject matter, and aesthetic sensibilities of the rare books, as well as their contexts and meanings. We will also travel to the Women's Studio Workshop to experience firsthand the artistic process in an alternative space. Ms. Collins.

One 2-hour period.

Permission of the instructor.

380a. Art, War and Social Change (1)

(Same as Sociology 380a) Ms. Miringoff.

386. American Modernism (1)

387. From the Natural Hist Museum (1)

388. US Efforts/Remake Middle East (1)

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

Approved Courses

Approved 1-Unit Courses for Native American Studies (NAS)  Correlate:

•AMCL 105                  Introduction to Native American Studies

AMCL 260                 Native American Women

•AMCL 261                  Native American Urban Experience

•ANTH/LALS 240        Mesoamerican Worlds –or- Andean Worlds (rotates)

•ANTH 266                  Indigenous and Oppositional Media

•ENGL 231                   Native American Literature

•ENVR 283                  Native Americans and the Environment

•HIST 274                    Colonial America

•POLI 271                    Race, Gender, and Class in American Political Thought

•SOCI 221                    Feminism, Knowledge, Praxis (some years offered as 300-level)

•AMCL 290                  Fieldwork

•AMCL 298                  Independent Work

•ANTH/LALS 351        Indigenous Literatures of the Americas

•ANTH/LALS 360        Native Religions and Resistance in the Americas

•ENGL 356                   Contemporary Poetry

•HIST 366                    American Encounters

•AMCL 399                  Senior Independent Work

Approved 1/2-Unit Courses for NAS Correlate: (Reading Courses)

AMCL 297.01 Native American Art  (½)

Selected readings in Native American art, with emphasis on the Inuit, Haudenosaune (Iroquois), Pueblo and Navajo peoples.  Ms. Lucic.

AMCL 297.02 Regional Cultures of Native North America  (½)

Directed reading of ethnographies on a particular region of North America to be chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor.  Students will write brief reviews and comparative analyses of 3-4 ethnographies written about the same culture group. Ms. Johnson

AMCL 297.03 Regional Prehistory of Native North America  (½)

Directed reading of field reports and syntheses of the prehistory of a particular region of North America to be chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor.  Students will write brief analyses of the field reports and critique the synthesis based on more recent field reports. Ms. Johnson

AMCL 297.04 Native American Memoir and the Premise of Memoir  (½)

Selected readings from Native authors, including Sherman Alexie, Kimberly Blaeser, Forest Carter, Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Gordon Henry, Linda Hogan, Ignatia Broker, Janet McAdams, Molly McGlennen, N. Scott Momaday, Nasdijj, Leslie Marmon Silko, Stephanie Sellers, and Gerald Vizenor.  Ms. Nichols.

AMCL 297.05 Native American Philosophies and Religions  (½)

Directed reading of Indigenous North American philosophical and religious belief systems.  Students will write brief reviews of chosen texts and a final research paper on a (related) topic of the student’s choice.  Ms. McGlennen

AMCL 297.06 Native American Ethnobotany. (½)

Directed reading on the ways that Native Americans in North America (north of Mexico) perceive and interact with plants.  Particular cultural groups and time periods to be chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor.  Students will write brief reviews of chose texts and a final research paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor.  Mr. Schlessman