Spring 2018 Course Offerings
AM 103W 001 A Humourous (Dis)Course
In this course we will use comedic cultural forms to think critically about American culture and to explore key moments and transitions in American history. As burgeoning Americanists, we will examine the history of comedy as the history of the United States—that comedy reflects the institutions and ideologies shaping cultural production; the same institutions and ideologies that prompt us to warfare, that determine who has rights and who does not and that influence our consumptive practices. This course will examine the history of cultural production in America, specifically through the cultural forms of minstrelsy, vaudeville, improv, and stand-up comedy and how it has 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.
AM 101W 002 Intro to American Studies 1968
This course introduces students to different forms of history and cultural criticism and examines some recurrent American cultural values and themes, such as the tension and disparity between American ideals and social realities. It also emphasizes reading critically, thinking historically, practicing interdisciplinarity, acknowledging diversity, and making connections. Students will analyze and synthesize many kinds of texts in order to better appreciate the complexity of American life and culture. The course employs an interdisciplinary approach that melds history, journalism, autobiography, material culture, music, literature, art, film (feature and documentary), and other forms of knowledge and expression—and uses 1968 as its focal point.
AM 221 001 Methods and Approaches
An introduction to American studies scholarship, methodologies, and approaches to
the study of society and culture in the United States. Course materials include “classics”
in American studies as well as the most recent scholarship: the “myth and symbol”
school, the culture concept, psychoanalytic methodologies, new literary and feminist
critiques, material culture and oral history resources, mass and popular culture analyses,
with attention to issues of race, gender, class, and ethnicity throughout. The intent
of the course is to offer students a variety of opportunities to sharpen their analytical,
research, and writing skills from interdisciplinary and historiographic perspectives.
AM 241 001 Mark Twain’s America
A study of American culture from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century through the life and works of Mark Twain. Using Twain’s essays, letters, short stories, and novels as points of reference for discussions of major themes for the period of Twain’s life (1834–1910), the course focuses on issues of regionalism, class, race relations, technology, humor, and imperialism.
AM 261D 001 Gaming in American Society and Culture
This course explores the multivalent significance of gaming to American society, and examines the many ways in which diverse forms of gamic praxis have been represented in American culture. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to these topics, it presents gaming as a set of socio-cultural practices with profound resonance and effects in American life. Culturally oriented units of the course focus on representations of gaming in films, television shows, literary novels, genre fiction, and in games themselves. Other units focus on the intertwinement of gaming with broader social, political, and economic issues. These include questions of ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in games; the emergence of game industries as economic rivals to Hollywood; the relationship of these industries and their practices to America’s place in the global economy; the historical roles of game theory in US military planning and diplomacy; the increasing influence of online game communities and fan cultures in mainstream US society; debates and moral panics over violence in games; and the potential role of games as educational and persuasive technologies. Game genres studied in the course include console and arcade-style videogames, war and strategy games, tabletop and massive multiplayer online RPGS, collectible card games, and games accessed through augmented and virtual reality platforms. Readings include fiction, theoretical texts, game studies literature, and cultural and ethnographic writings on American gaming. Evaluation is based on reading responses, participation, and papers. Some experiential engagement with gaming is also a part of the curriculum.
AM 266 001 Diversity in the United States
An examination of the ways in which people in the United States try to reconcile the
realities of cultural difference with preconceived notions of a unified America and
American identity. Students will learn about the United States as a complex, heterogeneous
society that has been profoundly shaped by both the connections and conflict implicit
in its multicultural heritage. Students will also address interrelationships and tensions
that characterize a culturally diverse democracy by examining how accepted cultural
traditions intersect with contested themes such as race, the family, adoption, gender,
sexuality, and education.
AM 331 001 Critical Whiteness in the United States
An interdisciplinary examination of whiteness in U.S. culture and history. Explores
the racial construction of whiteness, focusing on its changing legal, political, aesthetic,
and cultural definitions over four centuries of American experience, with special
emphasis on the concept of whiteness in contemporary ethnographic studies, memoirs,
and essays. Students will examine the relationship between whiteness and other components
of identity. The nature of white privilege and the conditions of access to whiteness
will be investigated.
AM 351C 001 History Preservation Practicum
This course of study involves the supervised application of historic preservation theory. We will investigate, inventory, and interpret the built resources of the Capital Region. Course requirements include completion of archival research, fieldwork, data gathering and assessment, and participation in a community engagement project. The course will build on the history and theory presented in the fall semester, in addition to having students create their own documentation of buildings in Saratoga, and present that information in a public forum.
AM 351D 001 Reading The Wire
This course is about the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which ran for five seasons (2002-2008) and 60 episodes. Produced by former journalist David Simon, the author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991) and, with Edward Burns, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (1997), The Wire is a remarkable, multi-layered text. Set in Baltimore, it offers a Dickensian (some critics say “Balzac-ian”) portrait of a post-industrial, racially divisive, impoverished city in crisis. At the same time, as Time puts it, “the series—which, by the way, is also a fantastically realistic cop show—is also funny and the opposite of nihilist, giving everyone from detectives to junkies dignity. Occasionally, it even offers a glimpse of something like hope, which is all the sweeter for being harder earned.” A complicated narrative with many recurring characters and interwoven plotlines, The Wire is an entertaining, engaging, poignant drama. More important, it is an important work of art and cultural criticism, with many targets: the failed drug war, most obviously, but the show’s critique is both broader and deeper than that. At its heart, the show is about failing institutions—local government and politics, public education and the media—moral decay and neoliberal capitalism. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, this class will study The Wire from myriad perspectives. It will consider the show’s form and politics, which are contested and open to multiple readings. Students will also carefully consider the many contexts (historical, local, national, etc.) in which the show is embedded.
|AM 356 001 Sports Cinema
TR 11:10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Jeffrey Segrave, 4 credits
Sunday 7:00-9:30 p.m.
This class puts in context and critiques feature films and documentaries about sports to understand and appreciate—aesthetically, historically, culturally—a wide variety of experiences and issues. The course is also intended to enhance visual literacy, and thus students will assess the films as films, which have their own codes and conventions. As one would expect, most of the films we will study were made and set in the United States. A notable exception is Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), which chronicles and celebrates the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. We will screen several “classic” sport films—among them, Knute Rockne—All American (1940), Raging Bull (1980), and Hoop Dreams (1994). After spring break, we will pair a Hollywood feature film with a related documentary: so, for example, Ken Carlson’s Go Tigers! (2001), which is about high school football in Massillon, Ohio, will be paired with Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights (2004). The point is not to suggest that documentaries provide a more accurate version of sporting reality; rather, it is to consider what different kinds of visual texts, grammars, and discourses do well (and poorly) and how they interact with and enhance one another. Students are required to attend a weekly evening film screening.
|AM 368 001 The 1960s
MW 4:00-5:50 p.m. Gregory Pfitzer, 4 credits
A consideration of the major events of the 1960s, including the New Frontier, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the sexual and gender revolutions, the rise of rock and roll, the counterculture, the moon landing and other landmarks of the decade. The course considers not only what happened during those climactic years, but why such events were so important to American development, and how perceptions about the 1960s have changed over time.