Welcome to American Studies

P-9177-17WilliamPenn-350wideThe American Studies program offers students an interdisciplinary liberal arts education. Students in American Studies engage in 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; an individualized set of area requirements in American history, literature, and Arts and/or Social Sciences; and a thesis requirement.

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.

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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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