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College Catalogue

American Studies

Program Committee
Angel David Nieves, Director (Africana Studies)
Lydia Hamessley (Music)
Anne E. Lacsamana (Women's Studies)
Seth Schermerhorn (Religious Studies)

The concentration in American studies consists of 10 courses: two offered by the program itself and eight selected among the range of U.S.-focused courses offered by other departments and programs at Hamilton College.

The American Studies Program offers students an opportunity to study American culture from a variety of perspectives and through the methodologies of different intellectual disciplines. Specialized studies in all fields of learning dealing with the United States are included in the program, and the impact of these studies is reflected in the work of the American studies introductory course (101) and the Senior Seminar (420).

Students work closely with faculty members in developing a plan of study that brings at least two disciplinary perspectives to bear on major issues in American culture. Required courses include 101, usually taken in the spring of the first year; 420, taken in the spring of the junior or senior year; two courses in American literature; and two courses in American history, chosen in consultation with the program director. Of the remaining four elective courses, at least two must be at the 300-level or higher. The departments and programs in Africana Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Cinema and New Media Studies, Communication, Economics, English and Creative Writing, Environmental Studies, Government, Hispanic Studies, History, Music, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Sociology, Theatre and Women's Studies all offer courses on issues pertinent to American Studies.

A minor in American Studies consists of five courses: 201; one course in U.S. literature or U.S. history; and three electives, one of which must be at or above the 300-level.

The only 100-level courses that may count toward the concentration in American studies are those offered by the program itself. Only one 100-level course may be counted toward the concentration or the minor.

Concentrators with a grade point average in the program of 3.5 or higher at the end of their junior year may, on approval, pursue an honors project in their senior year (550) under the direct supervision of a faculty member. To earn honors in American studies, students must maintain a grade point average of 3.5 or above in their coursework and earn a grade of A- or higher in 550.

101S Introduction to American Studies.
An interdisciplinary introduction to culture and society in the United States, from the colonial era through the 21st century, as revealed in literary, cinematic and historical texts. (Writing-intensive.) Not open to seniors. Maximum enrollment, 20. Nieves.

117F Roots Music to Country Music: The Making of an American Sound.
Study of country music from its roots in cowboy songs, fiddle tunes, blues, bluegrass, and gospel hymns to current artists like The Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift, and Brad Paisley. Artists include the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Lynyrd Skynard, & Garth Brooks. Study of the musical elements, social class, gender roles, and cultural contexts of styles such as Western Swing, Honky-Tonk, Rockabilly, the Nashville Sound, Southern Rock, and Alt-country. Includes films such as Coal Miner’s Daughter, Nashville, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? No ability to read music is assumed or required. Open to seniors. (Same as Music 117.) Hamessley.

[125] Introduction to History and Theory of New Media.
What makes new media “new”? How do new media compare with, transform or incorporate earlier media? Examines the production, circulation, and reception of visual and sonic media, with emphasis on how consumers and artists shape the uses and values of media. Covers key issues raised by new media through close study of critical essays and creative texts. Examples of old and new media include the phonograph, radio, film, turntable, social networks, fantasy sports and gaming, podcast, MP3, AutoTune, hypertext literature and digital poetry. Open to first-year students and sophomores only. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 125.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

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[129F] Native American Spiritualities.
In order to develop a broad understanding of the religious lives of Native Americans, we explore diverse practices and worldviews. We begin with an examination of how Native American worldviews are unique and differ from modern-Western worldviews. With this grounding, we delve into explorations of the multifaceted history of Native American traditions including the Ghost Dance, the Sun Dance, religious freedom issues pertaining to the use of peyote, struggles over sacred places, and complex native engagements with Christianity. (Writing-intensive.) (Oral Presentations.) Open to first year students only. (Same as Religious Studies 129.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

134F Americanism, Ballots, and Consumption: The ABCs of American Religion.
This course explores a variety of roles religion has played in American culture(s) and some of the ways that American culture has influenced Americans’ religious practices. We will focus on three areas: identity (Americanism), politics (Ballots), and economics (Consumption). In particular, we will consider how religion is involved in the construction of American identity and the exclusion of some people from American polity; how religion is (and is not) intertwined with our political system; and how religion affects – and is affected by – Americans’ economic practices (Same as Religious Studies 134.) Newell.

[202] Introduction to Asian-American Studies.
An introduction to Asian-American studies, an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that deals with the history, experiences and cultural production of Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Filipino and Southeast Asian ancestry. Topics addressed include the history of Asian immigration to the United States; popular and self-representation of Asians in various cultural media; questions of race and ethnicity; and the category of gender as it is inflected along racial and class lines. Counts toward the concentrations in American studies or Asian studies. Not open to seniors. Maximum enrollment, 16.

[205] Video Game Nation.
Investigates how to critically interpret and analyze video games and the roles they play in visual and popular culture, and how to test the application of these approaches to various issues in gaming and digital media culture more generally. Topics and themes include genre and aesthetics, the game industry, spectatorship, play, narrative, immersion, gender, race, militarism, violence and labor. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 205.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

210S Consuming and Making Pop Culture.
Examination of pop culture from media representation to fandom in social media. Students learn how media affects daily life identity, such as race, gender, sexuality, and nationality, reinforcing or subverting social norms. Also focus on fandom and audience reception to analyze how communities and the global youth actively produce pop culture to explore alternative diasporic identities. Topics include ways of consuming and making pop culture through film, advertisement, sitcom, music video, online fandom, global activism, and flashmob. Lecture, discussion, student presentations, and creative responses and activities. Oh, Chuyun.

214F Queer Literature and Film.
Examination of the historical and theoretical constructions of sexual and gender identities through the literature and film of the late 19th c – present. The course will explore a range of issues including the emergence, normalization and regulation of heterosexuality and “homosexuality” as categories of identity; intersections with race, class and queerness; transgender identity and subjectivity; constructions of the “family” among others. Our analyses of LGBT literature and film will be grounded by contemporary debates in feminist, gender, and queer studies. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, one course in women's studies or consent of instructor. (Same as Women's Studies 214.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Lacsamana and Barry.

215F Religion in Film.
Study of the religious in film. Focus on the relationship between myth-making in film and post-modern culture. (Same as Religious Studies 215.) Humphries-Brooks.

[223] Black Female Voices: Writing Women of Color in the African Diaspora.
Explores the different ways black women have struggled for equality, constructed their own identity and understood their own place in American history. Emphasizes critical thinking about African American women's history and focuses on the many forms with which we tell the stories of women's lives. (Same as Africana Studies 223.)

239S Native Rituals and Religious Freedom.
Is American religious freedom a reality, an unfinished project, or merely a myth? This course explores how Native Americans have struggled for religious freedom in the United States, focusing on contemporary legal battles to protect sacred lands, repatriate ancestral remains and objects, and defend the ceremonial consumption of peyote. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as Religious Studies 239 and Government 239.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Seth Schermerhorn.

241F Religion in the American West.
This course explores and considers three themes in the history of religion in the American West: migrations (movement in and out of the region), locations (the designation of particular places as special), and adaptations (changes over time, in response to changing conditions). The course will use a variety of primary and secondary sources – some texts, but also films, photographs, and other kinds of sources. Students will also do their own research and contribute to the construction of a website about the religious history of the American West. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as Religious Studies 241.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Newell.

245/345F Music in American Film.
An examination of music in American film from silent films to the present with an emphasis on the golden age of Hollywood. Topics include the development of musical conventions in film, different approaches of film composers (Steiner, Tiomkin, Rózsa, Herrmann, Newman, Bernstein, Williams), and the meanings that music brings to the films' narratives. Includes films such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, A Streetcar Named Desire, West Side Story, Bonnie and Clyde, American Graffiti, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Hours. Special attention to films of Hitchcock Prerequisite, two courses, in any combination, in music, film, or literature. Three hours per week for film viewings in addition to class time. Music 345 has an additional independent project. (Same as Music 245/345.) Hamessley.

283F Introduction to Asian American Literature.
Examination of themes, forms, and history of literary production by people of Asian descent in the United States. We will survey translated and English-language works by Asian American writers of varying ethnic affiliations, including Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Indian, and others. We’ll explore how each writer negotiates a relationship with a particular cultural heritage, as well as confronts the racial, cultural, and political formations of the U.S.. Authors include Maxine Hong Kingston, Carlos Bulosan, John Okada, the Angel Island poets, and others. Prerequisite, One course in literature. (post-1900) (Theory or Identity and Difference) (Same as Literature and Creative Writing 283.) Yao.

310F Media and Politics.
How do rapid changes in the process of news-making alter the political process? Does democracy require accurate news reporting? Is objectivity possible? What is the role of the press (print, broadcast, digital, and social media) in the twenty-first century? How do historical precedents help us to understand the impact of digital media on the political process? What theories do communication scholars offer to clarify the interplay of media and politics? (Oral Presentations.) Prerequisite, one course in communication, government or sociology. (Same as Communication 310.) Phelan.

311 Black Women's Experience in the United States.
Examination of the experiences of black women in the United States from 1800-2006. Emphasis on the intellectual history of black women. Topics include the legacy of slavery, the role and influence of religion and the black church, the history of black women's education, the development of black feminism, the roles of and attitudes toward black lesbian and bisexual women, the role and impact of black women in popular culture and music. (Writing-intensive.) (Oral Presentations.) Prerequisite, 101 or consent of instructor. (Same as Women's Studies 311 and Africana Studies 311.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Haley.

[325S] Media Theory and Visual Culture.
We are bombarded with images, in myriad forms, on a daily basis. How do we interpret and analyze them? What is the relationship between an online advertisement for a movie and the movie itself, between a television program and a video game? An overview of contemporary media theory as it relates to visual culture in the 21st century. Readings will include seminal works in psychoanalytic theory, cultural studies, semiotics, postmodern theory, new media studies and visual studies. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 325.) Maximum enrollment, 12.

[327S] Religion in the United States: Pluralism, Change, Tradition.
A look at the history of the religious life of the United States within Hamilton College's geographic region. From the Onondaga traditions through 19th-century Utopian communities, to present day religious practices of immigrants from Italy, Bosnia, Thailand and elsewhere, this course relies on several site visits to the buildings and lands that various communities have considered sacred. This course has a service learning component (Project SHINE). (Same as Religious Studies 327.) Maximum enrollment, 12.

[330] Digital History and New Media: Theories and Praxis.
Focuses on the process of creating digital history and the impact of digital media technologies on the theory and practice of U.S. history and critical race theory, broadly defined. Readings, labs/workshops and discussions address the philosophy and practice of digital history, questioning how digital tools and resources are enabling and transforming analysis both in traditional print scholarship, and in emerging digital scholarship across the humanities. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 330 and Africana Studies 330.) Maximum enrollment, 12.

342F Seminar: Written on the Wall: 20th-Century American Prison Writing.
The writing of the men and women inside the American prison system constitutes a kind of shadow canon to that of better-known literary artists. We will read broadly in 20th- and 21st-century American prison writing, asking questions about the generic coherence, social and moral import of prisoners' non-fiction, fiction and poetry. Authors will include Jack London, George Jackson, Assata Shakur, and citizens serving time today. Students who are twenty-one or older will visit a book group inside a state prison. Prerequisite, one 200-level course in literature. (post-1900) (History or Identity and Difference) Open to juniors and seniors only. Does not fulfill the senior seminar requirement for ENGL or LIT concentration. (Same as Literature and Creative Writing 342.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Larson.

[350] Gender and Cyberculture.
Explores critical approaches to media through the intersection of gender and the technological imaginary. Investigates how the production, use and circulation of digital media affect notions of representation, identity, the body and consciousness. Close visual and textual analysis of the ways writers, artists and theorists have conceived these issues. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 350.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

[380S] Ut Pictura Poesis: Contemporary Graphic Narrative.
An exploration of form and innovation in the rapidly evolving medium of graphic narrative. Includes a study of comics’ development through the 20th century and the myriad experiments in reportage and autobiography, as well as in long-form fiction, that increasingly characterize comics’ endeavor. Readings in contemporary American literature and critical theory consider comics’ shifting social and cultural status, as well as the particular purchase this hybrid representational form has on experience and cognition. Prerequisite, one 200-level course in literature, American studies, art, art history or history. (Genre or Theme) Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. (Same as Literature and Creative Writing 380.)

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420S Seminar in American Studies: American Folk Revivals.
Study of the folk revivals that marked 20th-century U.S. cultural life. Topics include African and Native-American origins, 19th-century minstrels, Stephen Foster, the Appalachian ballad collections of Cecil Sharp, the legacy of the Lomax and Seeger families, bluegrass and hillbilly music, Woody Guthrie and union songs, the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement, the Washington Square scene in Greenwich Village, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Grounded in the study of music and its circulation, examines the impact of these revivals on dance, film, literature and politics. Prerequisite, two courses in literature, history or music (in any combination), or consent of instructor. (Same as Music 420.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Hamessley.

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421S Raging Gods: Scorsese and Coppola's Religious Films.
The religious in the films of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. As American New Wave auteurs they contribute to the emergence of a new sacramental style in American film. We pay attention to the film traditions that inform their development, e.g. Italian neo-realism, horror, film noir and French New Wave. A look at the influence of their Roman-Catholic, Italian-American religious culture. Prerequisite, two courses in religious studies and/or cinema & new media studies or consent of instructor. (Same as Religious Studies 421.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Humphries-Brooks.

550F,S Honors Thesis.
Independent study required for honors candidates, culminating in a thesis. Registration only by express approval of the program director. The Program.

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