Chair of the Department of American Studies: Beck Krefting
Professor: Daniel A. Nathan, Gregory M. Pfitzer
Associate Professor: Beck Krefting
Visiting Assistant Professor: Emma Newcombe
American Studies is an interdisciplinary major that focuses upon life and culture in the United States, past and present, using a variety of resources, techniques, and methodological approaches. The major examines the diversity of Americans, as well as their commonly shared experiences and incorporates race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and ability as categories of analysis. The major is structured to allow students to take courses about the United States and related topics in different departments and to integrate that material into the courses that the American Studies faculty teach. American Studies students often study abroad, participate in the Washington Semester, and do internships. Our majors have found American Studies a strong background for careers in journalism, publishing, museums, historic preservation, archaeology, education, government, law, business, NGOs, and the nonprofit sector, as well as useful preparation for further study in graduate and professional school programs.
The American City
An examination of themes surrounding “Americanness,” from pre-colonial native settlements to the present, using the American city as a lens to investigate select historical periods. Topics include pre-colonial beginnings, the new nation, the industrial city, urban politics, migration and immigration, suburbanization, urban policy, social movements, urban decline, and globalization. Students will pay careful attention to the relationship among commerce, industry, and cultural change, as well as the rise of the working and middle classes.
American Cultural Geographies
An introduction to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and the ways that a geographic approach informs our understanding of American cultural practices. Students will examine how questions of American culture are also questions of landscape, identity, politics, economics, history, and place, and how a geographic approach to such questions helps us understand the world in more critical ways.
An introduction to American cultural values and themes using basketball as a lens to consider the politics of race, class, and gender formation, identity, and relations. Invented in 1891 by a Canadian of Scottish parentage, basketball is a locus of complicated cultural exchange-on playgrounds, in schools, on television, and online. This is not a class about basketball; rather, it is a class that uses basketball to think critically about American culture.
Civil War in American Memory
A consideration of how Americans have remembered and commemorated the Civil War from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Drawing on depictions of the war in fiction, film, popular history, television, music, and re-enactors’ conventions among other cultural sources, students will focus on how memory and history interact in the popular imagination to shape the cultural legacy of the conflict.
A Humorous (Dis)Course
An investigation of the history, theories, and functions of laughter and humor and use of comedic cultural forms to think critically about American culture while exploring key moments and transitions in American history. Students will examine the history of comedic cultural production in America through cultural forms such as blackface minstrelsy, vaudeville, and stand-up comedy. Course assignments will focus on how cultural forms have been influenced and shaped by shifts in social consciousness, changing economy, industrial and technological innovations, political events, public/popular discourses, and global conflict and relations.
Myth and Symbol in America
An introduction to the ways myths and symbols function in American culture. Students will study how myths develop as mirrors for reflecting and testing cultural experience; how they gradually change over time to accommodate altering cultural conditions; and how they eventually outlive their usefulness. The course focuses on the pervasive mythology of the American frontier, paying special attention to how, once the physical frontier disappeared in the late nineteenth century, Americans transferred their ambitions for the West to imperial outposts in the Caribbean and the Pacific in the early twentieth century, and then to outer space in the late twentieth century, where astronauts replaced cowboys as the archetypal American heroes and where the successes and failures of Western frontier development were recapitulated in space exploration and development.
An interdisciplinary study of American culture centered on 1968. For many people, 1968 seemed like a historical and cultural pivot or a line of demarcation between the past and the present, a moment when the United States and much of the world changed irrevocably. Students will use the events of 1968 as a laboratory to think critically about American culture.
The Wizard of Oz
An examination of the cultural impact of L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz (1900) and its various twentieth and twenty-first century adaptations, including MGM’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the African American musical The Wiz, the novel Wicked, and the SyFy Channel miniseries Tin Man. Students will study the original novel and its sequels, reflecting on the social, economic, and political contexts of each. They will also consider how revised and reinvented versions of the Baum narrative reflect and shape cultural anxieties as they intersect with gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, age, spirituality, and consumerism as categories of analysis. A variety of methods and approaches will be employed, especially myth/symbol theory, feminism, queer theory, and performance studies.
AM 345H - Disorderly Women
AM 351 C or D - Topics In American Culture
AM 352 - City
AM 354 - Religion
AM 355 - Magazines and Modernity
AM 356 - Sports Cinema
(when topic is Media and the Meaning of Work)