Spring 2021

LECTURE

INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN STUDIES, MON. & WED. 10:10-11:25 AMST UN1010

Maura Spiegel and Roosevelt Montás

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the values and cultural expressions of the people of the United States from the Puritans to our own time. 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 citizenship and 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 City on the Hill; the Plantation; the Open Road; Borderlands; and the Home. Two lectures each week and a required weekly discussion section. Required of all American Studies majors and concentrators.

 

SEMINARS

AMERICAN CULTURAL CRITICISM, TUES. 2:10-4:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 1

Casey N. Blake

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. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE MEANING OF AMERICA, WED. 2:10-4:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 2

Roosevelt Montás

Pre-Civil War debates about the abolition of slavery were also debates about the nature of the American nation and the place of race in the construction of American citizenship. This seminar will consider the lives and works of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln in the larger context of an emerging American nation. The course will focus largely on the contrasting ways in which they approached the national crises of the 1850s and, in the case of Douglass, the complexities of post-emancipation politics. We will also consider the relevance of each thinker to contemporary debates about American identity. The seminar will focus exclusively on primary texts. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

LANGUAGES IN AMERICA, WED. 12:10-2:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 4

John McWhorter

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. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

EQUITY AND ACCESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION, MON. 2:10-4:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 5

Andrew Delbanco, Roger Lehecka

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. Interview required the week of November 9. Submit application to Prof. Lehecka (lehecka@columbia.edu) as soon as possible. Applications received by November 9 will get priority.

 

RACE, POVERTY AND AMERICAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE, TUES. 4:10-6:00 AMST UN3931, SEC.6 

Cathleen Price

This course will examine the influence of race and poverty in the American system of confronting the challenge of crime. Students will explore some history, including the various purposes of having an organized criminal justice system within a community; the principles behind the manner in which crimes are defined; and the utility of punishment. Our focus will be on the social, political and economic effects of the administration of our criminal justice system, with emphatic examination of the role of conscious and unconscious racism, as well as community biases against the poor. Students will examine the larger implications for a community and culture that are presented by these pernicious features. We will reflect on the fairness of our past and present American system of confronting crime, and consider the possibilities of future reform. Readings will include historical texts, analytical reports, some biography, and a few legal materials. We will also watch documentary films which illuminate the issues and problems. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY: THE RULE OF LAW, THURS. 4:10-6:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 7

Michael Hindus

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 slaves 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 explore “second founding,” the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments added to the Constitution after the Civil War. 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 will include the history of crime and punishment, leading to mass incarceration, and impeachment in American history.  Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

THE PROBLEM OF SOCIAL CLASS IN POST-WAR AMERICAN LITERATURE AND CULTURE, THURS. 12:10-2:00 AMST UN3931, SEC. 9

Ross Posnock

The three epigraphs below suggest how the term class is at once elusive and familiar, hard to talk about and ubiquitous, in a democratic society grounded in a presiding myth of classless equality. The contradictions and complexities, comedies and tragedies of class as they play out in the United States will concern us this semester. We will examine a range of fiction, essays, memoir, and monologues as they depict how the abstraction called class impinges on our daily lives in visceral and intimate ways.

“Class is still the category most systematically muted or deleted in our understanding of human relations. Class is a name, I take it, for that complex and determinate place we are given in the social body; it is the name for everything which signifies that a certain history lives us, lends us our individuality.”
T.J. Clark

“The bourgeoisie is defined as the social class which does not wish to be named. ‘Bourgeois,’ ‘petit-bourgeois,’ ‘capitalism,’ ‘proletariat’ are the locus of an unceasing hemorrhage: meaning flows out of them until their very name becomes unnecessary.”
Roland Barthes

“In the mid-1990s Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates published a rich and impressive reader called, simply, Identities (1995). The book consists of some twenty articles covering identities of every sort—racial and ethnic, gender and sexual preference, national and religious, and more. The word ‘class’ appears on page 1 of the introduction, where we are told that the 1980s were a ‘period when race, class and gender became the holy trinity of literary criticism, and now threaten to become the regnant clichés of our critical discourse.’ Yet although race and gender receive a good deal of attention, the reader is hard put to discover much about class. The word never appears again in the book.  Consulting the index, one finds a single listing: ‘class, as cliché,’ page 1.”
Sherry Ortner

 

AMERICAN GRAPHIC NOVEL, THURS. 2:10-4:00 AMST UN3933

Jeremy Dauber, Paul Levitz

 The course seeks to combine literary and historical approaches to investigate one of the most rapidly growing, increasingly influential, and, increasingly, critically recognized forms of American popular literature: the graphic novel. A historical overview of the medium’s development, complete with analysis of relevant broader institutional and cultural factors illuminating the development of American media culture more generally, will be complemented by study of a series of recent works illuminating the medium’s explosive maturation. Authors read include Eisner, Crumb, Spiegelman, Bechdel, Thompson, and Hernandez. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

GREAT SHORT WORKS OF AMERICAN PROSE, MON. 10:10-12:00 ENGL UN3626

Andrew Delbanco

The aim of this course is to read closely and slowly short prose masterworks written in the United States between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century, and to consider them in disciplined discussion. Most of the assigned works are fiction, but some are public addresses or lyrical or polemical essays. We will read with attention to questions of audience and purpose: for whom were they written and with what aim in mind: to promote a cause, make a case for personal or political action, provoke pleasure, or some combination of all of these aims? We will consider the lives and times of the authors but will focus chiefly on the aesthetic and argumentative structure of the works themselves. Authors include Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Abraham Lincoln, Henry James, Sara Orne Jewett, W.E.B. DuBois, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Shirley Jackson, Truman Capote, and John Hersey. No preregistration, join waitlist.

 

HOLOCAUST GENOCIDE-AMERICAN CULTURE,THURS. 2:10-4:00 HIST GU4641

Rebecca Kobrin

When the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993, some people asked why a "European" catastrophe was being memorialized alongside shrines to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln while there was still no museum documenting the experience of African slaves in the United States or the effort to exterminate the Native Americans on this continent. How American intellectuals have thought about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust in Europe since before the Second World War and in the latter half of the twentieth century is the focus on this course.  The course will also compare the ways the United States narrates, conceptualizes and deals with the Holocaust as opposed to other genocidal events. This course is comparative at its core as it examines how intellectuals and institutions spanning from Hannah Arendt to the United Nations to the US Holocaust Museum have woven this event into American culture.

 

SENIOR RESEARCH COLLOQUIUM, AMST UN3920

Casey N. Blake

Required for American Studies students who intend to complete a senior research project in the summer. Each student will be assigned a supervisor in the spring. A full draft of the thesis will be due in April. Those drafts will be reviewed by the student’s supervisor and faculty. Students will then enroll in the senior thesis seminar in the summer and submit a final draft of the thesis in July. 

 

SENIOR RESEARCH SEMINAR, AMST UN3990

Casey N. Blake

A seminar devoted to the research and writing, under the instructor’s supervision, of a substantial paper on a topic in American studies. Required of American Studies students doing Senior Research projects.