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Skidmore College
American Studies Department

Senior Seminar Topic Proposals

Fall 2014

Rebecca Baruc: "The Painting is 'On the Wall': The Scribing of John Singer Sargent into the Canon of Great American Artists"

“Great” American artists do not find their way into the American collective consciousness by means of objective qualifications alone. The artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was largely forgotten not long after his death, but the immense scholarship of Richard Ormond starting in 1970 was a significant factor in pulling Sargent out of obscurity and propelling him into popular recognition. Ormond’s monograph and ongoing catalogue raisonné revived scholarship and museum interest in Sargent, thus increasing the buying, selling, and exhibiting of his art, as well as the publishing of literature on him. This compounding capital in combination with the cultural paradigm of globalism which favors Sargent’s international identity and career, has contributed to his heightened presence in popular culture as evidenced by blockbuster exhibitions, websites, documentaries, and children’s books devoted to Sargent. Sargent’s cultural currency has become increasingly valuable over the past forty years, allowing him to be recognized as a figure worth scribing into America’s historical narrative and teaching to future generations.

Joanna Mendelsohn: "The Captain American Century: Exploring the Myth of the American Superhero"

Starting with Captain America’s initial creation in 1940, the star spangled superhero has served both as a symbol and a challenge to American exceptionalism as perceptions of the United States government have wavered. Although created as a piece of propaganda on the precipice of America’s decision to join World War II, Cap has not always been a flag-waving jingoist. While the popularity of the character has wavered over the years, he has been continually refurbished and adapted to fit the current historical moment. In periods in which the American people have rallied behind the government, Cap reflects that sentiment. However, as skepticism emerges towards the American political system, Cap’s character shifts to question its motives. This remains true in the present moment as issues of “government overreach” permeate comic book plots as well as the new Captain America movies. In the present moment, Cap’s character is being invoked in new ways to address the racial inequalities present in the United States.

Libbie Pattison: "Does Lightening Strike the Same Place Twice?: The Cultural Meaning of Skin Lightening among Black Women in the United States"

The global boom in skin lighteners in the twenty-first century signifies the increasing prevalence of colorism and consolidation of beauty ideals via globalization. Drawing upon a mix of popular and scholarly discourses, I trace a shift in the cultural meanings attached to the use of skin lighteners among Black American women from post-Emancipation to the present. I argue that while skin lightening among Black American women may not reach the level of acceptance it enjoyed historically, the persistence of institutional racism, colorism, and gender inequalities encourages women to use their beauty as a form of capital, contributing to the likelihood that poorer and darker skinned Black women will become more vulnerable to the (mis)use of unsafe skin lighteners as the transnational industry for these products continues to proliferate. Additionally, I demonstrate that even though skin lightening may not be a popular practice among Black American women, American media is heavily implicated in spreading euro-normative beauty ideals, driving the global desire for light skin which cosmetic corporations offer to fulfill at a high price.

Alicia Pierce: "Mother Knows Best: Poor, Black, Single Mothers and the Reality of TANF Legislation"

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal assistance program that impacts the lives of millions of Americans every day. However, its conservative ideals of welfare dependency reduction, traditional family values, and the Protestant work ethic do a disservice to the needs of poor, black, single mothers on welfare. Instead of guaranteeing them assistance, TANF employs punitive measures that are consistent with a conservative agenda but rebuke the lifestyle choices of many poor, black, single mothers. This paper examines the provisions of TANF in the context of poor, black, single mothers in their social environment. Specifically, through the examination of TANF’s promotion of marriage and work requirement, this paper has found that TANF imposes conservative values on poor, black, single mothers that repudiate the actual needs of welfare recipients and disregard the root causes of poverty in the United States. This paper advocates that TANF is an ineffective social welfare program that has lost sight of the meaning of welfare and the intent to assist those most vulnerable in our society. Additionally, through the imposition of conservative values on poor, black, single mothers on welfare, this paper has determined that TANF is an act of cultural imperialism, void of humanity.

Harrison Priest: "How To Make It In America: Capitalism and Globalization's Influence on Soccer's Rise in Popularity in the United States"

Over the last twenty years, soccer has seen a rise in popularity in the United States. Globalization, with movements such as increased immigration since the 1960s and interconnectivity through the emergence of the internet, has led to greater viewership and fandom of soccer in the country. Additionally, this paper argues that it is capitalist culture that can now further advance the game’s development in America. This paper looks at the factors that have guided soccer to its current place in American society, including immigration policy and youth participation, and discusses what else must be done to move the game forward so that it will continue to influence the world of sports and social, economic and political culture.

Brooks Robinson: "Repurposing America's Pastime: A Study of the Off Track Thoroughbred Programs in Saratoga Springs"

Looking at the history of thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Race Course and nationally, with special attention to the presence of syndicates in the industry, the rising need for aftercare programs for OTTBs (off track thoroughbreds) is apparent. OTTB programs at the local and national level are becoming more popular and effective in dealing with the surplus of OTTBs retiring from racetracks. Many advocates also seek legislation as a way to regulate the industry and ensure the welfare of all thoroughbreds. With these programs and proposed legislation a number of problems, solutions, and benefits arise, but what remains clear is the need for an increase of OTTB programs. Increasing retired racehorse programs in the Saratoga Springs area will improve the well-being of on and off the track thoroughbreds, while steadily supporting the local economy.