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Skidmore College
American Studies Department

Senior Seminar Topic Proposals

Fall 2008

Luna Bajak

Currently the United States receives more immigrants than any other society, with one-tenth of its population being foreign born, and with another one tenth accounted for by the U.S born children of immigrants.[1] Once in the United States these ethnic groups have the tendency to cluster together in certain locations  known as ethnic neighborhoods. The United States is often coined a “melting pot” where various immigrant groups emigrate and mix without conflict or separation. However, a clear separation is evident when these ethnic enclaves arise.  Fortunately de jure segregation has been prohibited since the 1960s, so none of these groups are being forced to these certain geographic locations.  Regardless of the fact that legal segregation is no longer permitted, de facto segregation, separation regardless of law, still exists. Racial groups have the tendency to cluster together in various parts of the country and as a result the idea of a melting pot fails.  For my senior paper I am interested in writing about thede facto segregated and ethnic neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City.  Focusing specifically on the Dominicans in Washington Heights I would begin my paper by outlining the history of the area and what/when/why exactly did immigrant groups settle, and more importantly why have the Dominicans stayed the longest. I’d then discuss the social and political implications as a result of having this minority groups make up the majority of the neighborhood population. 
[1] Sanders, Jimy. “Ethnic Boundaries and Identity in Plural Societies” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 28 (2002), p. 334

Charlee Bianchini

     I would like to base my thesis on the concept of “sense of place” and its importance to society.  Though Americans have a tendency to frequently change location, we also seem to hold deep connection with our country and the various places within, be it cities, towns, or wilderness.  Even the American Dream was associated with place: the Western Frontier, where one could turn wilderness into civilization.  I wish to look at how we understand place and how we become connected to it: what are the things that make up “place,” including the physical landscape, history, mythology and spiritual aspects.  Why do we become attached to place?  How does place shapes us as people. I hope to discover both the drawbacks and positive aspects of having a “sense of place.”
     I will begin with an exploration of where “sense of place” developed in the American imagination, for instance, with our great (and specifically American) literary figures such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Then I would like to focus on why it is important to maintain the aspects of place in an age of globalization and modernization.  I would like to focus on my own town, Gloucester, Massachusetts, the oldest fishing port in America, where condos and Marriot hotels are replacing many old historical buildings.
     My list of sources includes both primary and secondary.  Many of my books are a series of interviews with people about their life and work.  Others are books on the search for place.  My other sources are interviews with and memoirs of various Gloucester residents describing their personal connections to the city.
     This topic has been explored before.  However, there is less of an analytical aspect to it.  Much of the “research” is anecdotal and unanalyzed.  I wish to take it a step further and really reveal what place means in contemporary American culture.

Rose Finn


     I will explore the time period surrounding the cultural revolutions of the 1960s, specifically focusing on the musician Jimi Hendrix. The period that followed World War II was a time of intense social, cultural, and political change in America as well as other countries throughout the world. All of the issues and conflicts led to cultural booms and revolutions, especially in America and in England. Race relations were at a peak during this time period in America. Race posed a powerful issue in Britain as well.  I will ask how was Jimi Hendrix received in London versus how he was received in America? Much of my focus will be in terms of race. Jimi was looked at as being black and white by many different people. My paper will start by generally speaking about the Cultural Revolution in America and the Cultural Revolution in London (sometimes referred to as “Swinging London”). Then I will assess Jimi’s career in America and his transition into a major star in England as well, specifically focusing on the racial issues he was surrounded by. I will look at these ideas and also how race influenced the treatment Jimi received from the music industry, critics, and fans in America and England.

Samantha Levine

     I am interested in studying how propaganda posters have influenced the attitudes of Americans toward war in three armed conflicts:  WWI, WWII, and the War in Iraq.  I want to discuss the motives of the poster makers and the agencies that employed them as well as the reactions of those who viewed them.  I will focus on the written texts that accompany these posters as well as on their color schemes and symbolism.  I am interested in showing how the strategies used in the mid-twentieth century by propagandists supportive of WWI and WWII were used by opponents of the Iraq War in the cause of attacking the government’s pursuit of war.

Sarah Magida

I am interested in exploring the assimilation of Reform Jews in the United States.  I am interested in the relationship between assimilation and the ways that anti-Semitism has manifested itself in this country.  I would like to explore whether anti-Semitism in America both allowed for assimilation in that Jews were not questioned about their religion as well as forced it in that Jews were asked to conform.  I plan to begin my exploration in 1885, the year that the Pittsburgh Platform was written, since it is the first statement issued by the movement in the United States.  I would like to continue my research up to the time of the Holocaust because I think that after 1945 there was a return to more traditional ideals in the movement, and I want to focus on the assimilation aspects.  To make my case, I plan to use primary sources such as the Pittsburgh Platform, newsletters from old synagogues, and interviews as well as secondary sources such as books and articles.

Jennifer Piepenbrink

     In America there is an obsession with being thin. Although much of the United States’ population is classified as overweight or obese, there still are significant numbers of people who suffer from one of the three types of eating disorders; Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. The population most at risk is young white females. The media is one of the most significant influences on eating disorders through its impact on values, norms, and image standards accepted by society. Along with media, the family setting can be extremely stressful and trigger incidents of eating disorders.  Not only does the average American struggle with body image, but athletes who participate in sports that emphasize thinness are especially at risk for developing disordered eating which may even result in an eating disorder. Many female athletes fall under the female athlete triad [FAT] medical condition, which deals with the interplay of an eating disorder, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. 
     Therefore my senior seminar will look at our society’s conception on thinness and how in a country where obesity is such a problem those who are inflicted with eating disorders are left to slip away without help. I would also like to look at the cultural implications of these disorders for female athletes in our society proposing along the way what might be done to control some of these.

Amy Proulx

     I will examine Public Law 107 – 110, better known as the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,” to understand the effectiveness of its purpose to reverse the “achievement gap” in American public education.  With the notion of reauthorizing the main federal law that affects K-12 education, the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) of 1965, President George W. Bush signed the “NCLB” Act on January 8, 2001. Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, the Public Law 107 – 110 was first discussed in Congress on January 3, 2002 and was to be effective immediately. Separated into ten chief titles and over six-hundred pages in length, the “NCLB” Act encompasses four fundamental principles: stronger accountability, more state and community freedoms, more choice for parents and proven scientific methods. I intend to explore the relationship, or lack thereof, between the federal government and public education in America with respect to each of these goals. In theory, the “NCLB” Act is beneficial to the improvement of American education, but why has it not been successful? Why are there still schools that are not meeting the expected academic achievement rates? What causes the success or failure of schools? What is the relationship, if any, between correlation and causation? The achievement gap suggests there is an unequal achievement between minority students and students of low-income with their more privileged Caucasian peers. I will look at statistics to determine which schools are succeeding to meet State standards and furthermore, which of those schools that are targeting low-income minorities are reversing the achievement gap.

Daniel Tejada

(email Danny)

     My Senior Seminar paper will discuss Rap music, especially focusing on the issue of  censorship over its lifetime.  The subjects of sexism, homophobia, and racism have been an important part of the criticism of Rap music and I want to show how they have led to suspicions about the genre.  I plan to use magazine, newspaper, and blog articles on Rap as well as videos, news reports, documentaries and discussions and records, of course in addition to all of that, I had the opportunity to interview Chuck D about the subject of the paper. 
     My objective for this paper is to show the many problems that Rap music has in terms of reputation and to suggest what can be done to improve the reputation of the genre.  I want to answer the following questions: Do the negative messages outweigh the positive messages? To what extent does censorship go with Rap music? How does censorship affect all sub-genres of Rap music? How do the general media and Hip Hop media play a role in all of this? What are the extremes for the positive and negative messages? Does the music reflect reality? Can it make a difference?