US Intellectual History 1865-Present
Tuesday and Thursday, 1:10-2:25
This course examines major themes in U.S. intellectual history since the Civil War. Among other topics, we will examine the public role of intellectuals; the modern liberal-progressive tradition and its radical and conservative critics; the uneasy status of religion in a secular culture; cultural radicalism and feminism; critiques of corporate capitalism and consumer culture; the response of intellectuals to hot and cold wars, the Great Depression, and the upheavals of the 1960s. Required of all American Studies majors and concentrators.
This seminar will examine foundational texts in American political and cultural history. The inherent tension between “freedom” and “citizenship” will serve as the organizing theme. The course is conceived on the model of Contemporary Civilization (CC) and, as in that course, we will focus exclusively on primary texts, the order of readings will be roughly chronological, and the class will be discussion-driven. We will begin with readings from the Puritan settlement of New England and continue with documents surrounding the Revolution, the early republic, the Civil War, Reconstruction, liberalism, the Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary debates about the nature of American national identity and its place in the world. In addition to the classroom requirements, students will serve about four hours a week at the Double Discovery Center (DDC) in connection with the Freedom and Citizenship Project, which DDC conducts in partnership with the American Studies Program. No preregistration. Join waitlist and attend first class.
This seminar explores the history of American gender through the history of the American film industry from the first features in the 1910s through the crumbling of the Hollywood Studio System and Production Code in 1968. The industry’s movies and stars offer important sites to examine transformations associated with the development of modern sex roles and racial attitudes over the half-century comprising Hollywood’s Studio Era. During this period, much of the controversy sparked by the industry stemmed from its depictions of new ideals of womanhood, manhood, and sexuality. Moreover, in this era, Hollywood targeted specific audiences and movies were not afforded the protection of free speech. This made films and movie stars peculiarly reflective of, and vulnerable to, broader societal fantasies and fears about changes involving gender roles, sexuality, and racial attitudes. We will use motion pictures and movie stars as primary sources and consider how the changing institutional history of film production connected to the images it sold. Students will write one short paper and a paper proposal in preparation for a short research-based essay on a topic relating to how some aspect of film history reflected a particular problem in gender history.
For the past century and a half, New York City has been the gateway city to millions of immigrants to the United States. This course will compare immigrants' encounter with New York at the dawn of the twentieth century with contemporary encounters of immigrants. How have these newcomers shaped New York and what issues, organizations, and debates have shaped immigrants experiences of New York City? As a service learning course, each student will be required to work 20-25 hours over the course of the semester at organizations such as the Riverside Language Center, Catholic Charities or St. Mary's Church. No preregistration. Join waitlist and attend 1st class.
As Tocqueville observed, “scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” As a consequence, the Supreme Court of the United States has been at the center of many of the most significant developments in American history. It has played significant roles in, for example, (1) the creation of the young republic and the achievement of a balance between states and the federal government, (2) race relations including the institution of slavery, (3) the rights of workers, (4) civil rights, and (5) elections. This seminar will explore the Supreme Court’s role in American society by examining its decisions on key issues throughout its history. No preregistration. Join waitlist and attend 1st class.
Americans are living through a boom in museum attendance and museum construction that recalls the creation of cultural institutions at the end of the 19th century. This seminar explores the transformation of cultural institutions in the United States and considers the continuing contemporary debates on the practices and public role of museums. How do museums—both large and small—serve the needs of the local communities in which they are located and the private interests of their founders? How have history museums in particular shaped debates about public memory and national heritage? In addition to exploring this historical evolution, we will examine the theory and practice of museum curation and education, with an emphasis on institutions in New York. The seminar will host conversations with speakers representing different aspects of public culture and feature a hands-on analysis with a working team of professionals engaged in a current exhibition at a local museum. No preregistration. Join waitlist and attend 1st class.
Tuesday, 10:10-12:00 pm
Pre-Civil War debates about the abolition of slavery were also debates about national identity and about the place of race in the determination of American citizenship. This seminar will consider the life and work of Frederick Douglass in the larger context of an emerging American nation. After examining the roots of American slavery and the role of “race” in the colonial period, the course will focus largely on Douglass’s extensive written corpus, including his autobiographical work, his newspaper editorship, and his long career as an orator. Douglass’s centrality to the abolitionist movement and his influence on figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and Charles Sumner, as well as his role in the emerging suffragist movement, will be of particular interest. Finally, we will consider whether Douglass’s career as a writer, orator, and activist offers a viable model of civic engagement for today’s America. The seminar will focus exclusively on primary texts.
Thursday, 12:10-2:00 pm
What has frightened America throughout its history? Looking at selected works of American prose horror - primarily, though not solely, fiction - we will discuss how some of its most distinguished - and popular - practitioners reflected and shaped the American psyche over 250 years. Fiction readings include Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, H.P. Lovecraft, Charles Chestnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Robert Bloch, Shirley Jackson, Isaac Bashevis Singer, James Tiptree, Jr., selections from EC Comics, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harlan Ellison, and Stephen King; non-fiction works include sermons, slave narratives, true-crime testimonies, and the Congressional Record.
Craig D. Blinderman and Robert Pollack
Brigid Connelly, T.A.
Thursday, 4:10-6:00 pm
This seminar is designed to provide opportunities for readings and reflections on the experience of volunteer service work in the At Your Service program at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center. Students will learn how to critically reflect on their experiences at the health care center in the context of questions raised in the texts read in the seminar. Shared experiences and reflections on texts and interactions at TCC will enhance the critical reflection of all students engaged in the course. Students will experience what it means to be a long-term or short-term patient in a nursing home and will provide assistance and support, whether emotional or recreational, or by simply serving as the person consistently there for someone during chronic illness or at the end of their life. At the core of this framework is the patient; however, it is important to think about the impact this will have on the student as well. Students will develop skills necessary to critically reflect on the significance of emotional care as a medical practitioner, as well as form a deeper understanding of the role of palliative care and comfort care in a life cycle of care. At least one prior semester of volunteer work in a clinical setting relevant to the syllabus is recommended, but not required. Application required, due May 1. Please download and complete the application, and email it to Brigid Connelly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Wednesday, 2:10-4:00 pm
The goal of this course is to enable students to think critically about 1. The American political system, and 2. The ideal of democracy. Guided by one overarching question—how democratic is the United States?—students will investigate a number of suspected shortcomings of the American system. Is the American political system sufficiently majoritarian, inclusive, and participatory? Can the various “democratic deficits” of American institutions be justified in terms of some value other than democracy? If you could redesign the American political system, what would you change? Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor's permission.
Senior Research Project
Required for American Studies students who intend to do a senior research project in the spring. Each student will be assigned a supervisor in the fall. A full draft of the thesis will be due in December. Those drafts will be reviewed by the student's supervisor and faculty. Students will then enroll in a senior thesis seminar for the spring and turn in a final draft of the thesis in March.