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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Spring 2016 Courses

IH AMST 140-01 Riot! (Antonucci) Civil disturbances have profoundly impacted the United States. This section of What is American Studies? examines popular, and political uprisings and their influence on shaping the American body politic, social landscape and cultural imagination. Students will consider what eruptions of violence have to tell Americans about themselves. Events as distant as the Boston Massacre and Chicago’s Haymarket Incident as well as Watts, Newark, and called Rodney King Riots in Los Angles (1992) along with the WTO Protests in Seattle (1999) will be considered along with recent street unrest in Missouri, Maryland, and even Keene.

IH AMST 140-02 California Dreamin (Long) American Studies is about peoples and places. And this section of American Studies 140 begins with an introduction to the social, cultural, and natural history of California. We will begin with an overview of the competing conceptions of place and identity, legacies of colonialism, and cultural norms, ideals, and media representations that feed into the “California dream.” We will then use print and digital materials to explore the historical myth and material reality of the Golden State. Using historical research, students will build interdisciplinary perspectives and critical understandings of such themes as immigration and demographics; racism and multiculturalism; water, orange groves, and agribusiness; cities and suburbia; political corruption and capital crimes; money and Hollywood moguls; technological booms and busts; film, fiction, and fashion; music and poetry; sex, drugs, rock and roll; self-actualization and alienation; surfing and skateboarding; television, sports, and celebrity culture.

IH AMST 199 Spanglish Exploring Linguistic Transformations in the US (Pedroza) This course examines linguistic interactions through an interdisciplinary approach. Focusing in films, linguistics, languages and literature this class addresses language as a tool to understanding of changes reflected in culture. Several linguistic approaches will be reviewed besides current interactions between English and Spanish.

II AMST 210-01 Introduction to American Studies (New) Popular culture provides an essential lens on American identity and culture. This course traces the history and evolution of mass media and popular forms in the US from 1830 to the present. Coursework includes film, fiction, fashion, music, poetry, television, sports, and celebrity culture. Beginning with folklore and mythology and then examining stage traditions like minstrelsy and vaudeville, we explore American values and humor. Hollywood cinema and genre fiction, like Westerns and detective stories, reflect American ideas about ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, and forms like the comic book blur the distinction between high and low culture. Historical research enables us to build interdisciplinary perspectives and critical understandings of the contemporary media landscape.

II AMST 210-02 Introduction to American Studies (Musial) This interdisciplinary course explores the representation of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality within U.S. visual culture, including film, video, and mass media. Drawing on feminist and queer studies, visual culture studies, film studies, and ethnic studies, this course asks how images convey racial, gender, and sexual difference. Cross-listed with II Women and Gender Studies 250.

II AMST 250 Bob Dylan in/and the 1960s As has been highlighted by Martin Scorsese’s documentary film, No Direction Home, and by the publication and success of Dylan’s autobiographical Chronicles, Bob Dylan is a figure of ongoing and lasting cultural significance. This course will explore the life, career, music, and achievements of Bob Dylan (and the controversies associated with Dylan) in the context of1960s America. Some attention will also be given to (and opportunities for study will also be provided for) other singer-songwriters and performers connected to Dylan and Dylan’spost-1960s career and music. Possible texts for the course include Michael Marqusee’s Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the1960s, Andy Gill’s Bob Dylan: the Stories Behind the Songs,1962-1969, and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Other crucial “texts” will include songs/CDs/albums/performances by Dylan (and other related singer-songwriters and performers) and pertinent films and videos, including Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back and Scorsese’s No Direction Home.

AMST 350 Space, Place, Race (Antonucci) This course explores representations and identifications of” race” in the United States, particularly as they are manifest within various national and regional social, historical, political flows. Additionally, students will examine modes of cultural production that emerge as geographies and spatial formations. Literary texts, theory, in addition to scholarly works by historians, geographers, artists, and other cultural producers, inform and instruct students’ research methods and scholarly writing.

AMST 390 American Indian Writers / Cultures (Bouley) This course is a study of some of the most influential Native American authors, the many cultures they represent, and how those cultures have defined themselves in the 20th and 21st centuries. The focus will be on themes of self-definition, heritage, landscape, sexuality, and gender. The object of this course is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of modern Native American issues and the writers who help to define them.

AMST 390 American Property rights Traditions (Duggan) Contrasts property rights of New England with those in the Spanish Borderlands and the pre-civil war South. Spanish corporate law probed to explain why Native American communities retained land in the Spanish Borderlands, while tending to lose land in New England. Cross-listed with Economics 355-01.

IH AMST 391 The Beatles and American Culture (Lebeaux) The recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America dramatizes once again that the Fab Four are figures of lasting cultural significance and popularity. This interdisciplinary course will explore the lives, music, careers, achievements, and significance of the Beatles in the context of American (as well as British) culture in their times (and ours). Among possible texts for the course, in addition to the Beatles’ songs/albums/CDs/online recordings and performances, are Steven Stark’s Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band that Shook Youth, Gender, and the World and Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, The Sixties and After, as well as pertinent films and videos.

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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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