Urban Studies Program

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 (multi)disciplinary approaches.

Requirements for Concentration:

1) 14 units, including Introduction to Urban Studies (100), Urban Theory (200), and the seminar on Advanced Debates in Urban Studies (303).

2) One unit of Research Methods appropriate to the student’s concentration in Urban Studies, chosen from Anthropology 245, Art 102-103, Art 176/276/375, Economics 209, Geography 220/224/230 , Mathematics 141, Political Science 207, Psychology 200, or Sociology 254.

3) Urban Studies Cluster. Two units at the 200-level, originating in Urban Studies or cross-listed with Urban Studies (not including fieldwork or independent study).  Additional Urban Studies courses may comprise one of the 3-course (multi)disciplinary clusters below.

4) Two 3-course (multi)disciplinary clusters, comprised of two 200-level and one 300-level courses drawn from distinct fields. One cluster may focus on additional courses in Urban Studies. Other clusters might include such disciplines as Art or Architecture, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, and Sociology, or other multidisciplinary concentrations such as Africana Studies, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, International Studies, Latin American and Latino/a Studies, and Women’s Studies.

5) One unit of fieldwork (URBS 290).

6) Senior Thesis. A one unit, two-semester thesis must be completed 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

100. a 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 social movements of contestation. 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 with guest presentations by the other Urban Studies faculty. Mr. Koechlin, Ms. Brawley.

170. Rome (1)

(Same as Art 170)

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 2011/12.

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. Mr. Simpson.

Prerequisite: Urban Studies 100 or by permission.

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.

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.

230a. Making Cities (1)

This course surveys the production of urban space, from the mid 19th century industrial city to today's post-bubble metropolis. Theories of urban planning and design, landscape architecture, infrastructure and real estate development are discussed in the context of a broad range of social, cultural, political and economic forces that have shaped urban space. Looking at American and European case studies, we ask: Who made decisions on the production of urban space? How were urban interventions actually brought about? Who were the winners and losers? Mr. Armborst.

Two 75-minute meetings.

232b. Contemporary Urbanism (1)

This course looks at the evolving theories and practices of urban design since 1960, with a focus on current projects and debates. Initially conceived as the design discipline of the public realm, urban design has been transformed and redefined in relation to the changing modes of production of urban space. Today, in an urban environment that is largely shaped by forces and processes beyond the control of architects, planners and designers, the role of urban design is highly contingent on specific actors and projects. In addition to discussing readings from the past 50 years, we study a number of practices and projects from around the world. Mr. Armborst.

Two 75-minute meetings.

237. Community Development (1)

(Same as Sociology 237)

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.

Not offered in 2011/12.

245a. Ethnographer's Craft (1)

(Same as Anthropology 245a.) This course introduces students to the methods employed in constructing and analyzing ethnographic materials through readings, classroom lectures, and discussions with regular field exercises. Students gain experience in participant-observation, fieldnote-taking, interviewing, survey sampling, symbolic analysis, the use of archival documents, and the use of contemporary media. Attention is also given to current concerns with interpretation and modes of representation. Throughout the semester, students practice skills they learn in the course as they design, carry out, and write up original ethnographic projects. Ms. Lowe Swift.

249b. The Politics of City, Suburb, 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 Space/Place/Environment (1)

(Same as Geography 250b) Now that most of the global population lives in urban areas, the unprecedented size and interdependence of megacities pose pressing socioeconomic, political, and environmental problems. This course focuses on the making of urban spaces, places, and environments at a variety of geographical scales (local, regional, and global). Major course themes include: urbanization and global cities; public space and urban life; transit-oriented development; urban political ecology and sustainability; spatial justice and social equity; and citizen movements for livable cities. Mr. Godfrey.

Two 75-minute sessions.

252. Race, Representation and Resistance (1)

(Same as Education 252b and Sociology 252b) Ms. Cann.

254a. Victorian Britain (1)

(Same as History 254a) This course examines some of the key transformations that Victorians experienced, including industrialization, the rise of a class-based society, political reform, and the women's movement. We explore why people then, and historians since, have characterized the Victorian age as a time of progress and optimism as well as an era of anxiety and doubt. Ms. Murdoch.

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

(Same as Africana Studies, Education, and Sociology 255b) 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)

(Same as Geography 258) 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.

Not offered in 2011/12.

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.

Not offered in 2011/12.

270a. Gender and Social Space (1)

(Same as Geography 270a and Women Studies 270a) 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.

273a. Modern Architecture and Beyond (1)

(Same as Art 273a) 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.

274. Urban Sociology:Bldg the City (1)

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

(Same as History 277a) Ms. Cohen.

280b. Naked Cities (1)

(Same as English 280b.)

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.

Yearlong course 300-301.

303a. Advanced Debates (1)

This seminar focuses on selected issues of importance in Urban Studies. Topics vary according to the instructor. The course is required of all majors and may be taken during the junior or senior years; it can be repeated for credit if the topic has changed. Topic for 2011/12: Memory and the City. Urban sites are important sources of collective memory, cultural identity, tourism, and political symbolism in our contemporary globalized world. This seminar examines selected cityscapes in terms of their power to remember the past, preserve the present, and envision the future. After examining the theory and practice of memory with reference to several historic cities, we focus primarily on debates in New York City. Students carry out research on related topics of urban memory. Ms. Batur and Mr. Godfrey.

Prerequisite: Urban Studies 100 and 200 or equivalent.

One 3 hour meeting.

320b. Mapping the Middle Landscape (1)

A majority of Americans today live, work and shop in an environment that Leo Marx has termed “the middle landscape”: the suburban and exurban area between city and countryside. This reading and research seminar investigates some of the middle landscape’s peculiar spatial products, such as master planned communities, mega-malls and ethnoburbs. The investigation will focus on the physical environment as well as the general attitudes, fears and economic forces that shaped this environment. After a series of introductory lectures and discussions, students will produce detailed case studies, using a variety of mapping techniques. Mr. Armborst.

One 3-hour meeting.

340. Advanced Urban and Regional Studies (1)

(Same as Geography 340)

One 3-hour meeting.

Not offered in 2011/12.

346. 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.

Not offered in 2011/12.

350. 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 2011/12.

352b. The City in Fragments (1)

(Same as Media Studies 352b) 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.

356b. Environment and Land Use Planning (1)

(Same as Environmental Science 356b and Geography 356b)

366b. Art and Activism (1)

(Same as Africana Studies66a, American Culture 366a, Art 366a and Women's Studies 366a). Topic for 2011/12a: Vision and Critique in the Black Arts and Women's Art Movements in the United States. Focusing on the relationships between visual culture and social movements in the U.S., this seminar examines the arts, institutions, and ideas of the Black Arts movement and Women's Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Analyzing paintings, photographs, posters, quilts, collages, murals, manifestos, mixed-media works, installations, films, performances, and various systems of creation, collaboration, and display, we explore connections between art, politics, and society. Ms. Collins.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2011/12.

367b. Urban Education Reform (1)

(Same as Education 367b) This seminar examines American urban education reform from historical and contemporary perspectives. Particular attention is given to the political and economic aspects of educational change. Specific issues addressed in the course include school governance, standards and accountability, incentive-based reform strategies, and investments in teacher quality.

Prerequisite: Education 235 or permission of instructor.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2011/12.

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

(Same as History 369) 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.

370a. Seminar in Architectural History: The Vassar Campus (1)

(Same as Art 370a)

Study of the major works of architecture on campus with particular attention to the foundation of the campus (Renwick's Main Building) and adjacent structures. The course addresses issues of educational philosophy and its relation to architecture, and landscape. Mr. Adams

Prerequisite: Art 105-106, Art 272 or Art 273 and permission of 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.

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

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