Spring 2017


Jeremy Dauber, Paul Levitz
Monday & Wednesday 2:40-3:55

The course seeks to combine literary and historical approaches to investigate one of the most rapidly growing and increasingly influential genres of American popular (and, increasingly, critically recognized) literature: the graphic novel. A historical overview of the genre’s development, along 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 works that illuminate artistic approaches taken within the genre to the classic themes of the American experience: politics, ethnicity, sexuality, and America’s place in the broader world, among other themes. Authors read include Eisner, Crumb, Spiegelman, Bechdel, Sacco, Thompson, and Hernandez.

Andrew Delbanco
Monday & Wednesday, 11:40-12:55; An additional hour of discussion section to be arranged 

Note: This course counts as an American Studies core course.

Introduction to American thought and expression from the first English settlements to the eve of the Civil War. Writers include the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Herman Melville. Themes include the rise of an American national consciousness, the transformation of religion, ideas of nature and democracy, debates over immigration, race, and slavery. The course proceeds through a combination of lecture and discussion—with the aim of deepening our understanding of the origins and development of literature and culture in the United States. In addition to the two lectures, a weekly discussion section is an integral and required part of the course for all students. Required for American Studies majors.


Michael Hindus
Wednesday 4:10-6:00

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 nineteenth 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.  Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

Adam Kirsch
Monday 2:10-4:00

In this seminar, we will read some of the leading writers to emerge in American fiction in the last twenty years. Analyzing the work of writers like David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, Gary Shteyngart, Claire Messud and Tao Lin, we will explore what, if anything, constitutes a "literary generation," and see how the work of this period addresses issues of politics, technology, immigration, sincerity and impersonation, realism and experimental form, and the threatened place of literature in society. Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

Tamara Tweel
Monday 4:10-6:00

In this seminar, we will examine the history and ethics of American philanthropy. We will explore the early divide between charity and philanthropy and discuss the moral challenges of both keeping money and giving it away. We will look at the great accomplishments of American philanthropy as well as the longstanding critique that charity fails to address structural inequality. This course is designed to help students analyze and evaluate how philanthropic organizations have addressed major public problems. Students will complete a final project that offers an in-depth analysis of a particular social problem, past solutions, and opportunities for productive intervention. Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

Cathleen Price
Thursday 2:10-4:00

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. Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

James Shapiro

Tuesday 10:10-12:00 pm

The 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 Dickenson, 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. Email Professor Shapiro (js73) stating your major, related course work (i.e., American Studies and History), and reason for wanting to take course.


Casey N. Blake, Maura Spiegel
Tuesday 2:10-4:00

The city has had a powerful hold on Americans’ imagination as a site of possibility, danger and discovery.  This seminar will examine those writers, artists, musicians, urban planners, social critics and activists who since the late nineteenth century have sought to understand and represent urban experience.   We will follow their imagined and reimagined cities through good times and bad, from the Pacific coast to the Rust Belt and the Great White Way.  Course materials include novels, narrative and documentary films, writings by urban historians and critics, works of public art and architecture, music, dance, and other artifacts of the American urban imagination.  Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

Todd Gitlin

Tuesday 4:10-6:00

This seminar aims to recover the period from its many slogans and myths, both from the outside (via history, analyses of demographic, social, political, and economic trends) and the inside (personal reminiscence, music, film, and television), with attention to penetrating accounts from movements, counter-movements, and establishment alike.   Among the topics:  civil rights; the causes and meanings of affluence; television; youth culture; the university boom; the growth of the political Right; domestic violence; tensions in liberalism; the Cold War; Vietnam; the Pill and sex; feminism; black power; and gay rights.  Film and TV footage will supplement class discussion. Join waitlist and attend first class for instructor permission.

Graduate Seminar

Casey N. Blake and Ross Posnock
Wednesday 610-8:00 pm

This course will offer a range of readings from major figures and debates that shaped twentieth-century American culture and aesthetics, giving particular attention to the critical discourse about post-World War Two artistic modernism.   Beginning with cultural histories of the period, we will then examine writings by leading critics and theorists, starting with the pragmatist aesthetics of John Dewey and Kenneth Burke in the thirties and continuing through Susan Sontag on the “new sensibility” of the 1960s and Arthur Danto on Andy Warhol and the origins of “postmodernism.”   The postwar period of Abstract Expressionism--which posits that "the sublime is now," in the words of Barnett Newman—is a major focus of the seminar.  Readings introduce the famous clash between Clement Greenberg's formalism and Harold Rosenberg's existential theory of “action” painting, as well as Meyer Schapiro’s Marxian readings of abstract art, and then the elaboration of a Zen aesthetic in Ad Reinhardt’s painting, John Cage's rearranging of traditional relations of "life" and "art," and Allan Kaprow’s "happenings.”   We will examine as well the emergence of modern American film criticism in the writings of James Agee, Manny Farber, Robert Warshow, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. Other readings will include classic Lionel Trilling essays and Ralph Ellison's epochal defense of the literary imagination against Irving Howe's version of artistic responsibility and Amiri Baraka’s social history of African-American music.  American champions of modernism were at the forefront of the critique of mass culture, as represented in writings by Dwight Macdonald, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.  Students are required to write a significant research paper on a critic, journal, debate or controversy in twentieth-century American culture.