Spring 2022


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.

Hilary-Anne Hallett


This lecture explores major topics in modern American history through an examination of the American film industry and some of its most popular films and stars. It begins with the emergence of “Hollywood” as an industry and a place in the wake of WWI and ends with the rise of the so-called ‘New Hollywood’ in the 1970s and its treatment of the 1960s and the Vietnam War. For much of this period, Hollywood’s films were not protected free speech, making movies and stars peculiarly reflective of, and vulnerable to, changes in broader cultural and political dynamics. Students will become familiar with Hollywood’s institutional history over this half-century in order to understand the forces, both internal and external, that have shaped the presentation of what Americans do and don’t see on screens and to become skilled interpreters of American history at the movies.


Andrew Delbanco, Roger Lehecka

AMST UN3931, section 001

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 8. Submit application to Prof. Lehecka ([email protected]) as soon as possible. Applications received by November 8 will get priority.

Lynne Breslin

AMST UN3931, section 002

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 lifestyles. No preregistration, join waitlist.

Cathleen Price

AMST UN3931, section 003

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.

Ross Posnock

AMST UN3931, section 005

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 

No preregistration, join waitlist.


Craig D Blinderman, Robert E Pollack


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. Students 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. 

Prerequisites: At least one prior semester of volunteer work in a clinical setting relevant to the syllabus is recommended. Application required.


Roosevelt Montás, Damon Horowitz


This seminar will examine the impulse towards innovation in American culture, with a special focus on the ways in which technological innovation motivates, shapes, mirrors, and overlaps with political- and self- innovation. The course will pursue this theme along three broad lines: religion, politics, and science and technology. Where do new ideas come from, what motivates them and gives them traction, and how should we evaluate their impact? Most importantly, how does an attitude of innovation shape the sense of self in America? We will be especially interested in the relationship between the spirit of innovation and currents such as transcendentalism, pragmatism, existentialism, and exceptionalism in American life. Students will develop their own critique of the narratives and ideologies underlying the impulse towards innovation, and apply their thinking to questions of how they may engage creatively in civic life. No preregistration, join waitlist.