Introduction to American Studies
Monday and Wednesday, 4:10-5:25
This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the values and cultural expressions of the people of the United States since the late 19th century. Students will examine a variety of works in literature, history, cultural and social criticism, music, the visual arts and the built environment with an eye to understanding how Americans of different backgrounds, living at different times and in different locations, have understood and argued about the meaning and significance of American national identity. Lectures and readings will give particular attention to the sites—real and imagined—where Americans have identified the promise and perils of American life, including the West, the Open Road, the City, the Home and Citizenship. Two lectures each week and a required weekly discussion section.
(Required of all American Studies majors and concentrators, beginning with the Class of 2020.)
AMST UN3931, Sec. 1
In this seminar we examine the roles colleges and universities play in American society; the differential access high school students have to college based on family background and income, ethnicity, and other characteristics; the causes and consequences of this differential access; and some attempts to make access more equitable. Readings and class meetings cover the following subjects historically and in the 21st century: the variety of American institutions of higher education; admission and financial aid policies at selective and less selective, private and public, colleges; affirmative action and race-conscious admissions; what “merit” means in college admissions; and the role of the high school in helping students attend college. Students in the seminar are required to spend at least four hours each week as volunteers at the Double Discovery Center (DDC) in addition to completing assigned reading, participating in seminar discussions, and completing written assignments. DDC is an on-campus program that helps New York City high school students who lack many of the resources needed to succeed in college and to be successful in gaining admission and finding financial aid. The seminar integrates students' first-hand experiences with readings and class discussions.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 2
This course is an intensive seminar on American cultural criticism since the late 19th century, with particular emphasis on debates over modernist currents in the arts from the 1910s through the 1960s. Readings will consist primarily of works by major interpreters of American culture, including John Dewey, Constance Rourke, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Allan Kaprow, Ralph Ellison, Paul Goodman, and Susan Sontag. Each student will write a research paper on a major critic or controversy in 20th century culture.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 3
This seminar will explore some of the most important ways in which law and the legal system transformed American society– the shift from status to contract and the role of law in shaping the economy. We will look at the legal status of slaves and the status of freed people after emancipation, the status of women, both married and single, how family and marriage law evolved to encompass marriage equality, and the status of criminals and prisoners, when guilt replaced shame as a legal concept and the penitentiary replaced the stocks, and how the concept of privacy became enshrined in law. We will also look at the role of law in releasing creative energy into the economy and how law transformed the economy in the 19th century and conversely how the explosive growth of the American economy disrupted and transformed American law. Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases. We will have as a special visitor the attorney who was responsible for overturning the Supreme Court's decision in the Korematsu case, which originally upheld the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 4
In the 20th century, Americans got old. From 1900 to 2000, the average American lifespan jumped from 47 to 77 years of age. By looking at the history of old age in America, this course will ponder a set of fundamental questions regarding eldercare: How should old age be defined? Where should the elderly live? Where should they die? What is the government’s responsibility to the elderly? What are the ethics of intergenerational obligation? Students will take on these questions by studying traditional academic texts, such as historical monographs, policy papers, and novels, and volunteering in a local old age home. In tandem, this approach will give students the tools to evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of social policy and expose them to the genuine moral complexity of eldercare.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 5
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. Believing that culture could enrich the nation’s cities as it had the great European capitals, American civic leaders created museums that would soon rank among the best in the world. This seminar will explore the transformation of cultural institutions in the United States and consider 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 the historical evolution of such institutions, we will examine the theory and practice of exhibitions and education in museums, 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 of a current exhibition redesign plan at a local museum.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 6
Using an interdisciplinary approach, this seminar will explore the formation of identity in two great American cities: New York and San Francisco in the 20th and early 21st century. We will focus on the power of the city to appropriate space to produce distinct social, political, economic and cultural landscapes. We will ask: How do we understand a city? How is the city experienced? How is the city imagined and how is that image realized in architecture, fiction, film, music and art? In considering the formation of these urban/geographical entities, infrastructures and underlying ideologies, we will examine the mechanisms of the developing collective consciousness and individual reconciliations. New York and San Francisco will be situated in the seeming contradiction of global pressures and local formations. We will identify those official and informal spaces, the spaces of consumption, production, celebration and memory. We will also analyze both the violation of and resistance to accepted spatial practices: examining crime, homelessness, and alternative life styles. No pre-registration; those interested should join waitlist.
AMST UN3931, Sec. 7
Transmedia, widely regarded as the future of entertainment, raises crucial questions about how an individual creator’s role changes as the creative project grows. Translation from one medium to another becomes a more tightly controlled form of storytelling where creators must navigate between the desire to add excitement and the threat of diluting impact. In today’s entertainment industry, properties like Batman become simultaneously films, cartoons, video games, online webisodes, and re-appear in multiple versions beyond their original expression (comics, in this example)—all with the aim of enlarging their commercial potential, and connecting with many audiences. Increasingly, writers and creators are being enlisted to build these variations even before the first incarnation of the project is released. This course will explore transmedia in the present including the growth of fan fiction , and speculate about its future. It will also explore its history as exemplified by such works as L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We will examine the tensions between creative and commercial goals, and between contradictory audiences. Guest speakers will include writers, artists, and people involved in projects ranging across the media, including Broadway adaptations. Readings and viewings will include primary sources (novels, graphic novels, films, etc.), criticism and theory, and intellectual property law. Students will be expected to compose 2 response papers and either give a presentation on a transmedia property of their choice or write a research paper.
Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the campus protests of 1968, this course will investigate the social, political, and cultural upheavals of one of America's most-tumultuous decades. From the Beatniks to Gay Rights, Feminism to Black Power, the Vietnam War to Environmentalism, individual sessions will explore major topics in—and new perspectives on—1960s history. Drawing on the rich archival resources held at Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, students will develop advanced research skills and work independently to complete a digital exhibition highlighting their archival discoveries.