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.
This course explores the place of Shakespeare in American literary and political culture from the Revolution to the present. We will explore the ways in which American poets, novelists, presidents, essayists, polemicists, and humorists over the past two hundred years have turned to Shakespeare, time and again, in addressing such divisive issues as race, immigration, gender, and national identity. In this sense, the complex story of Shakespeare in America offers an alternative version of our nation’s past. Readings include works by Washington Irving, John Adams, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Mary Preston, Walt Whitman, Jane Addams, Henry James, Isaac Asimov, Mary McCarthy, and Adrienne Rich. Familiarity with Shakespeare’s major plays is expected.
Application required. Send a paragraph to Prof. Shapiro (js73) by 5pm, April 14 with a paragraph stating why you are interested in the course and your background and preparation.
The United States, often thought of as a nation where since its origins all foreign languages spoken by immigrants have withered away upon exposure to English, has actually always harbored a complex mixture of languages and dialects. This course will examine the history of language in America, including the robust role of German in colonial times and beyond (once as commonly heard in America as Spanish); creole languages such as Gullah, Louisiana Creole French and Hawaiian “Pidgin” English; Black English, including its history and present; Native American languages and modern efforts to preserve them; and the history of Asian languages in modern America, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hmong. The course also serves, in ancillary fashion, as an introduction to the variety among languages of the world and to a scientific perspective on human language.
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.
The rule of law is the underpinning of our economy (through the enforcement of contracts and the protection of property) and defines and protects our rights. This seminar will explore some of the most important ways in which law and the legal system transformed American society. We will look at the legal status of slavery and of freed people after emancipation, the status of women, both married and single, and how the concept of privacy became enshrined in law. We will also look at how law transformed the economy in the 19th century and conversely how the explosive growth of the American economy disrupted and transformed American law. Other topics may include how Native Americans had their land taken away and the history of crime and punishment, leading to mass incarceration. Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases.
The 2022 midterm elections offer a prime opportunity to examine, in real time, the critical role the press plays in the American political process, and how that role has been disrupted in the digital era. We'll look back at some classic pieces of 20th century political journalism, from Theodore White to Hunter Thompson, and compare them to coverage of the 2022 campaign. How have social media and hyper-partisan news sites changed the discourse? Who’s covering groups underrepresented (or misrepresented) in legacy media? And what happens to the decisions voters make when disinformation is exploding and the fact base is under assault?
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. **Freedom & Citizenship in the United States may be substituted.
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 has New York been shaped by these newcomers 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.
Robert Pollack, Marya Pollack
"Human Nature" focuses on human identity, beginning with the individual over the lifespan and progressing to communal and global viewpoints using a framework of perspectives from biology genetics, medicine, public health, psychiatry, religion and the law. GU4321 (W4321) evolved from a Columbia College Core Capstone course INSM4321 in 2009 which developed initially from a Ford Foundation grant to the Center for the Study of Science and Religion for "A Difficult Dialogues Course: 'Human Nature.'"