Urban Studies Program

Director: Brian J. Godfrey; Professors: Nicholas Adams (Art), Pinar Baturab (Sociology), Miriam Cohen (History), Brian J. Godfrey (Earth Science and Geography), Sidney Plotkin (Political Science), Yu Zhou (Earth Science and Geography); Associate Professors: Heesok Chang (English), Lisa Gail Collinsa(Art), Mary Ann Cunninghamb (Earth Science and Geography), Lydia Murdoch (History), Leonard Nevarez (Sociology), Leslie Scott Offutt (History); Assistant Professors: Tobias Armborstb (Art), Colette Canna (Education), Sarita McCoy Gregory (Political Science), Maria Hantzopoulos (Education), Hua Hsu (English), Erin McCloskey (Education), Molly S. McGlennenb (English), Barbara A. Olsen (Greek and Roman Studies), Tyrone Simpson II (English); Visiting Assistant Professor: Tracey Holland (Education); Adjunct Assistant Professor: Paulina Bren (History); Senior Lecturers: Lisa Camille Brawley (Urban Studies), Timothy Koechlin (Urban Studies).

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 188/276/375, Economics 209, Geography 220/224/230 , Mathematics 141, Political Science 207, 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.

6) 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. Introductory

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. Mr. Koechlin, Ms. Brawley.

170b. Rome (1)

(Same as Art 170b) An overview of the history of the eternal city from its legendary origins to the present as seen through its architecture and urbanism. The development of major sites (the Forum, the Capitoline, St. Peter's) and significant architecture (from the Pantheon to Richard Meier). Rome as the site of architectural fantasy and imagination and its influence throughout the western world (London, Washington, St. Petersburg). Readings, films. (This course cannot be used to fulfill distribution requirements for the major in Art History.) Mr. Adams.

Two 75-minute periods.

Not offered in 2010/11.

II. Intermediate

200a. 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 or by permission.

213. 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.

Not offered in 2009/10.

222b. Urban Political Economy (1)

(Same as International Studies 222b) This course employs the multidisciplinary lens of political economy to analyze economic development, social inequality, and political conflict in contemporary cities. Why do people and resources tend to concentrate in cities? How does the urban landscape promote and constrain political conflict and distribute economic and social rewards? How are local outcomes influenced by global political-economic forces? The course develops an analytical framework to make sense of a variety of urban complexities, including poverty, segregation, suburban sprawl, the provision of affordable housing, global migration, and the effects of neoliberalism on rich and poor cities throughout the world. Mr. Koechlin.

237a. Community Development (1)

(Same as Sociology 237a) This course provides hands-on lessons in nonprofit organizations, urban inequality, and economic development that are intended to supplement theoretical perspectives offered in other classes. Students examine local efforts to revitalize neighborhoods, provide social services, leverage social capital, and promote homeowner and business investment in the contemporary city. A community development initiative in the City of Poughkeepsie (to be determined) provides the case study around which lectures, readings, and guest speakers are selected. The course includes a special weekly lab section during which students volunteer at local organizations, conduct fieldwork, or otherwise independently gather and analyze data in support of the case study. Students are graded for both their comprehension of course materials (in essays and exams) and their participation in the community-development initiative (through fieldwork and the final report written collectively by the instructor and students). Mr. Nevarez.

Two 2-hour course periods.

245a. Ethnographer's Craft (1)

(Same as Anthropology 245a) Ms. Lowe.

249b. Politics City/Suburban Neighborhood (1)

(Same as Political Science 249b) An examination of the development, organization, and practice of the varied forms of politics in metropolitan areas. Main themes include struggles between machine and reform politicians in cities; fiscal politics and urban pre-occupations with economic growth, racial and class politics; changes in federal urban policies; neighborhood politics and alternative forms of community organization; suburban politics and race/class. Mr. Plotkin.

250b. Urban Geography (1)

(Same as Geography 250b) Mr. Godfrey.

254. Victorian Britain (1)

(Same as History 254) Ms. Murdoch.

255b. Race, Representation, and Resistance in U.S. Schools (1)

(Same as Africana Studies, Education, and Sociology 255) This course seeks to interrogate the intersections of race, racism and schooling in the US context. In this course, we examine this intersection at the site of educational policy, media (particularly urban school movies) and K12 curricula- critically examining how representations in each shape the experiences of youth in school. Expectations, beliefs, attitudes and opportunities reflect societal investments in these representations, thus becoming both reflections and riving forces of these identities. Central to these representations is how theorists, educators and youth take them on, own them and resist them in ways that constrain possibility or create spaces for hope. Ms. Cann.

Two 75-minute periods.

258. Sustainable Landscapes: Bridging Place and Environment (1)

Geographers have long understood the relationship of aesthetic landscapes and place to include concepts of identity, control, and territory. Increasingly we consider landscape aesthetics to involve environmental quality as well. How do these contrasting sets of priorities meet in the process of landscape design and analysis? In this course we begin by examining regional and local histories of landscape design and their relationship to concepts of place, territory, and identity. We then consider landscape ecological approaches to marrying aesthetic and environmental priorities in landscapes. We investigate local issues such as watershed quality, native plantings, and runoff management in order to consider creative ways to bridge these once-contrary approaches to understanding the landscapes we occupy. We focus on projects on topics related to the ongoing Vassar campus landscape study. Ms. Cunningham.

261. Native American Urban Experience (1)

(Same as American Culture 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.

273. Modern Architecture and Beyond (1)

(Same as Art 273b) European and American architecture and city building (1920 to the present); examination of the diffusion of modernism and its reinterpretation by corporate America and Soviet Russia. Discussion of subsequent critiques of modernism (postmodernism, deconstruction, new urbanism) and their limitations. Issues in contemporary architecture. Mr. Adams.

Prerequisite: Art 105-106, or 170, or by permission of instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

276. 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.

277a. The Making of the "American Century," 1890 - 1945 (1)

(Same as History 277a) Ms. Cohen.

281a. Imagining Prague (1)

(Same as History, International Studies, and Jewish Studies 281a) This course explores the ways in which the city of Prague has played on the imagination, in the process becoming both site and creator of mysticism, spectacle, re-invention, and nostalgia. The cornerstones of our inquiry include the Castle (from Kafka to Havel), the Jewish Golem (from myth to modern tale), Amadeus (from Mozart to Hollywood), Alchemy (from Rudolf II's court to absinth), and the Outsider (from the Jewish ghetto to the Anglo-American expatriate community). Using these categories, among others, we move back and forth in time to understand the connections between past and present, and how the space of the city and its inhabitants have shaped one another. Our sources are varied: memoirs, travelogues, literature, comic books, guidebooks, and film. Ms. Bren.

Two 75 minute meetings.

284. Urban Political Economy (1)

288a.Geography of Social Movements (1)

(Same as Geography 288) Why does collective action emerge in some contexts but not others? How do social movements mobilize support for their agendas? How are space and place integral to and reproduced through political struggle? This course considers these central questions through exploration of geographical and sociological approaches. Geography theories emphasize the role of space and place in structuring collective action, as well as in the production of urban space through political struggle. Beyond social theories, we also apply readings to a few specific movements, including alternative transportation movements, labor organizing, and neighborhood organizing. Finally, we explore emerging trends in the study of collective action such as the role of new technologies in activists' efforts to control urban space, the rise of zero tolerance approaches to policing urban protest, the increasingly transnational character of movements, and what this all means for emerging alternatives to territorially-bound citizenship.

Two 75-minute meetings.

Prerequisites: Geography 102, Urban Studies 100, or Sociology 151, or permission of the instructor.

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.


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

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

III. Advanced

300a. Senior Thesis (1/2)

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

Year-long course, 300-301.

301b. Senior Thesis (1/2)

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

Year-long course, 300-301.

340a and b. Advanced Urban and Regional Studies (1)

(Same as Geography 340)

Topic for 2010a: Ethnic Geography and Transnationalism. This seminar is a multidisciplinary discussion of the changing theoretical discourses on studying ethnic groups in America ranging from assimulationism, multi-culturalism to transnationalism. We contrast the historical experiences of the European immigrants and the experiences of contemporary Hispanic and Asian populations in different urban locations in the U.S. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which ethnic spaces are constructed through the practices of the ethnic population and the larger society. The topics include immigration in the context of global history, race, ethnicity and identities, cultural assimilation and integration, changes in gender relations, and transnational linkages. Ms. Zhou. 

Topic for 2010/11b: World Cities: Globalization, Segregation, and Defensive Urbanism.

As world cities have grown into metropolises of unprecedented size, they have become simultaneously more globalized and, many commentators argue, increasingly polarized by class, race, ethnicity, and gender. This seminar examines the emergence of heightened forms of socio-spatial segregation, enforced by new defensive barriers, security, and surveillance in world cities. Often justified by discourses of urban decline, crime, and terrorism, such measures have raised issues of spatial justice and access. We examine the political-economic contexts and social spaces in which these concerns arise, such as central business districts, corporate office parks, shopping malls, gated communities, shantytowns and informal communities, streetscapes, plazas, and other public spaces. Informed by readings from such authors as Teresa Caldeira, Manuel Castells, Mike Davis, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre, Don Mitchell, and Saskia Sassen, students apply theoretical insights to research on world cities of their own choice. Mr. Godfrey.

One 3-hour meeting.

346b. Musical Urbanism (1)

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. Hsu.

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.

Topic for 2010/11a: Plotting the Invisible City. The seminar takes as its core focus urban infrastructure, broadly conceived. We examine New York City as the collection of objects, structures, and practices that sustain, regulate, and constitute urban everyday life. We approach the city as a structured site of interaction, a form of spatial practice re-enacted every day and assured over time by the resilience of infrastructure. A core goal of the seminar is to use visual analysis to explore and to map the non-apparent city, and thus to render the invisible city visible. In this way, the seminar participates in the broader critical project of opening these central registers of contemporary urbanization to broader, more democratic scrutiny and use. Ms. Brawley, Mr. Armborst.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

352. 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.

367. Urban Education Reform (1)

(Same as Education 367)

369b. Themes in Twentieth Century Urban History: Social Reform and the Evolution of the Welfare State (1)

(Same as History 369b) Examines the growth of labor reform, school reform, and social insurance, beginning with the Progressive Era through the New Deal, the war years after, to the Great Society and the present. Explores how the development of the welfare state affected Americans of different social, racial, ethnic backgrounds, and gender. Focuses on how these various groups acted to shape the evolution of the welfare state as well. Ms. Cohen.

Prerequisite: History 261 or 277 or 278; or by permission of instructor.

370b. Seminar in Architectural History: Looking at Great Buildings (1)

(Same as Art 370b)

The class consists of alternate meetings on campus and at buildings in our region. In class we meet to discuss the nature of the building after reading all the significant literature on the building. In visiting the building we seek to test the principles and positions we read about in class. Among the buildings we expect to visit are: Louis A. Kahn, British Art Center; Mies van der Rohe, Seagram Building; Frank Gehry, Fischer Center; Frank Lloyd Wright, Guggenheim Museum; Marcel Breuer, Whitney Museum; Bunshaft, Beinecke Library. Field trips are an essential part of this course. Photography, drawings, written description; research project. Mr. Adams.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

One 3-hour period.

373b. Adolescent Literacy (1)

(Same as Education 373b) 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 literacy's our students accept and resist in the various disciplines. We define literacy broadly and look at how school literacy compares and contrasts to the literacy's 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.

375a. Democratic Engagement (1)

(Same as Political Science 375a) What is democracy? How healthy is democracy in the United States and/or abroad? What counts as engagement? Is talking enough? Should citizens do more than vote? What types of activism count as engagement? This course addresses these fundamental questions in addition to those raised during our interaction over the semester. Democratic Engagement offers a community-based experience focused on observing, participating in, and documenting several different approaches to political engagement in the greater Poughkeepsie metro area. The class combines theory and practice in two ways. First, the class offers a theoretical exploration of concepts such as democracy, participation, deliberation, activism, and power through an examination of texts, articles, and films. Secondly, students employ their own gazes to evaluate engagement in action through off-campus visits, guest lectures, and participation in local politics. Students work in small teams with a local organization on a public policy issue designed by the organization for in-depth research on an advocacy project. Students complete a final report to be turned in to the organization at the end of the semester. The class also makes an end-of-the-semester presentations with community organizers and the Vassar community. Ms. Gregory.

Prerequisite: by permission of instructor.

One 2-hour period.

380. 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.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

Limited to five students per college.

Not offered in 2011-12.

381a. Urbanism in the Ancient Mediterranean World: Pompei, Akrotiri, Constantinope (1)

(Same as Greek and Roman Studies 381) Daily life in the ancient Mediterranean world revolved around urbanism, as cities defined and delineated the geographic and ideological landscapes of Greece and Rome. Incorporating contemporary urban and anthropological theories of the preindustrial city, this course draws on a multidisciplinary approach using archaeology, art, historiography, and literary and documentary evidence to investigate forms and expressions of urbanism in three highly disparate cities from the ancient world: Aegean Akrotiri, Roman Pompeii, and Late Antique Constantinople. Pompeii, richly documented through documentary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence, occupies the course???s theoretical and practical center as a type-site for exploring ancient urbanism and the mechanisms of daily life. The course then addresses two other important cities and the unique methodological challenges they pose for ancient urban studies: Akrotiri, the 2nd millennium BCE port on the island of Santorini (Thera) was preserved by a 17th century BCE volcanic eruption and is now accessible only through study of its archaeological remains, and the Late Antique (4th-7th century CE) city of Constantinople which can be recovered now primarily through literary and documentary sources. Topics include city planning, politics and social organization, public and domestic space, infrastructure, religious practices, and trade and economic production. (All readings in English.) Ms. Olsen

386. 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.

Prerequisite: Special permission.

390. 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.

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

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