Welcome to American Studies

P-9177-17WilliamPenn-350wideThe American Studies program offers students a challenging exploration of historical and contemporary American culture and the American multicultural identity, including its past and present values, conflicts, and experiences. Working closely with an advisor who is a core faculty member in American Studies, students design their course of study around three core courses; and an individualized set of area requirements in American history, literature, and Arts and/or Social Sciences.

American Studies prepares students for career opportunities in elementary and secondary education; graduate school; law school; business; work in libraries, museums, and historic preservation; newspaper, magazine, broadcast journalism; film or media work; work in federal, state, and local agencies, both public and private; government and politics; nonprofit organizations; writing, editing, and publishing; international relations and diplomacy; public relations and advertising; and social services. To find out more about our American Studies graduates visit the Alumni page.

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The Annual Sally Joyce American Indian Heritage Month Lecture

The American Studies Program and the Department of English will co-sponsor the annual Sally Joyce American Indian Heritage Month Lecture each November to recognize the significant impact of Dr. Joyce’s courses in American Indian Literature and Culture on the English and American Studies Programs, her commitment to diversity in the Keene State College curriculum, and for her lasting contributions to the field of American Indian Studies.

lisa brooksThe first annual Joyce lecture will be by Dr. Lisa Brooks, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, Amherst College and Chair, Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program. Professor Brooks will be speaking on November 4th, a Wednesday, at 4 PM on the topic of “Corn and Her Story Traveled: Reading North American Graphic Texts in Relation to Oral Traditions. Professor Brooks received her Ph.D. in English, with a minor in American Indian Studies, from Cornell University in 2004. Before coming to Amherst, she was John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Her first book, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (University of Minnesota Press 2008) reframes the historical and literary landscape of the American northeast. Illuminating the role of writing as a tool of community reconstruction and land reclamation in indigenous social networks,The Common Pot constructs a provocative new picture of Native space before and after colonization. The Media Ecology Association honored the book with its Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture for 2011.

Dr. Sally Joyce joined the English Department in 1988 after completing a Ph.D in medieval literature from Miami University in Ohio. Dr. Joyce has taught a variety of courses at Keene State for the English Department, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, and the American Studies Program. She has served as Chair of American Studies and is also a member of the American Studies core faculty. Since 1993, when she had the opportunity to study with the Rosebud Sioux at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota, she has focused her teaching and scholarship on American Indian Studies. Her recent research focuses on Lakota language studies, Lakota arts and crafts, and the literature of Acoma Pueblo writer Simon Ortiz.

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What is American Studies?

For professor Mickey New, there is a brief and compelling answer to the question of our entry-level course entitled What is American Studies: “It ain’t nothing but the blues.”

DSC03852-1024x680But answers are most often places to begin. Students who enroll in professor New’s section of IH AMST 140 explore historical and contemporary issues from American culture(s) by studying the blues as a musical tradition, a political ideology, and a cultural imperative. Music, visual art, literature, and film offer a window into the tragicomic blues aesthetic that makes one laugh to keep from crying. The blues comes from the disruption of the Middle Passage and the history of racial slavery; it expresses the ambivalence of African-American double-consciousness. These historical contexts are essential to the course’s investigation of the United States’ evolving culture. Following the blues allows students to examine the social, political, and historical implications of racial identity, folk traditions, and cultural resistance. They apply the interdisciplinary approach of American Studies to navigate the work of musicians such as Bessie Smith, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and Nina Simone. And they learn from Billie Holiday’s album, Lady Sings the Blues, Tyehimba Jess’s, leadbelly: poems, LeRoi Jones critical study, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, and Gloria Naylor novel, Bailey’s Café.

Professor New’s students have the opportunity to deepen their study of American culture in his introduction to the major course, Introduction to American Studies and in the courses he offers in the department of English, including Literature and JazzCaribbean Literature and Music, and American Biography.

To learn more about professor New’s classes, his scholarly work, and his active role in organizing campus events and programming (including his radio show Instrumental Voices Radio at WKNH 91.3 FM in Keene) you can visit Instrumental Voices.




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Secondary Certification in AMST

For decades students have combined a major in American Studies with Elementary Education. Beginning in the fall of 2015, American Studies will be an approved major for students seeking Secondary Social Studies certification. Students will complete a dual major in Secondary Education and will meet distribution requirements in History, Economics, Psychology, Geography, and Anthropology or Sociology.



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Jazz Literature (Spring 2015)

What has been jazz’s influence on literature during the century since the music began on the streets of New Orleans? Whether you are an aficionado of jazz or unfamiliar with the music, Dr. Michael New’s course will hip you to the history, genres, and culture of jazz through poetry, fiction, drama, film, and recordings.

PrintJazz literature emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between improvisational forms of black American music and literary experiments from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement and beyond. Readings focus on major black writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. Students will also listen to jazz literature, including experimental poets Amiri Baraka, Sarah Webster Fabio, Jayne Cortez, and Gil Scott-Heron recorded with jazz and R&B accompaniment.

The course begins with variations on jazz’s origin narrative. Historical sources like Jelly

Buddy Bolden (standing, second from the right) and his band, circa 1898

Buddy Bolden (standing, second from the right) and his band, circa 1898

Roll Morton’s Library of Congress sessions and concept-albums by Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington reveal what is at stake in retelling the story of jazz. Such narratives affirm and challenge cultural investments in racial and ethnic identities, gender and sexuality, and social class. Jazz is equally a record of regional, national, and international collaborations and collisions.

Students then delve into the decade during which jazz entered the mainstream. The 1920s are often called the “Jazz Age,” and the twin birth of jazz and film during this period highlights the importance of hybrid media, linking word, image, and sound. Early jazz films like St. Louis Blues, Black and Tan, and Symphony in Black feature Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. The Roaring Twenties—Cagney and Bogart’s last film together and a foundational gangster movie—begins in the trenches of the First World War, covers the prohibition era, and ends with the onset of the Great Depression.

Lady Day: The Best of Billy Holiday

The evolution of jazz both reflects and shapes the cultural movements and historical shifts around it. The course explores how the Second World War impacted jazz; by mid-century, bands got smaller and the music grew more dissonant. The changing forms of jazz—from swing to bebop, and then again from hard bop to fusion and avant-garde jazz—scores the movement from Civil Rights to Black Power.

The course concludes by considering the dwindling role of instrumental music in contemporary popular culture and the shift from acoustic to electric instrumentation, suggesting both the possibilities and pitfalls of technology. Hip-hop, for example, is a literary extension of the jazz impulse, but what resemblance does rap bear to jazz poetry? We look at contemporary writers and musicians who illustrate jazz’s evolution through new hybrids of literary and musical form.

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American Property Rights Traditions (Spring 2015)


Eusebio Kino (1644-1711). “Via Terrestis in California . . . Anno 1698 ad annum 1701” (Library of Congress)

Marie Duggan, Associate Professor of Economics, will be teaching an exciting new course in the spring of 2015. The cross-listed course, Economics 355: American Property Rights Traditions / AMST 390: American Property Rights Traditions, offers students a comparative study of property rights of New England with those in the Spanish Borderlands and the pre-Civil War South.  The course will introduce students to Spanish corporate law to explain why Native American communities retained land in the Spanish Borderlands while tending to lose land in New England.

Professor Duggan plans to offer the course every other spring semester. Questions about the course may be directed to mduggan@keene.edu.

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