Proposed project(s) for the term of the chair:
In essence, the Fellowship would give me the means to continue the kind of innovative work we've been doing in the American Studies Programs and to move them toward their next logical evolutionary stage.
One of the marvelous things about doing the kind of work I've been doing is that it is organic and incremental. Each class of students builds on the work of its predecessors and gains, in the process, each gains both a sense of responsibility to those who have already invested in the project and a sense of participating in something larger than themselves; in my experience, students are incredibly hungry for both of these. The downside is that, like the shark, the program must keep moving forward. I can't simply repeat myself year after year; instead, I have to continually re-invent courses, developing new topics, projects, and pedagogies. In this context, then, "continuation" actually and paradoxically means "continued re-invention and innovation."
I. Re-inventing the Undergraduate American Studies Program:
My work with the American Studies Program over the past five years has focused primarily -- but not exclusively -- on the M.A. program. I direct the undergraduate program and share with colleagues the teaching of its core courses, ENAM 483, ENAM 484, ENAM 485. When it's been my turn to teach one of these courses, I've sought to apply the same teaching paradigm that has been so successful at the graduate level. We publish the results in Cultural Objects: An Electronic Journal for American Studies, which can be seen at:
To this point, I've proceeded with the undergraduates at about 1/3 the pace I set for the graduate students -- in part because they take more courses, in part because I have them for two years rather than just 12 months. But, the effect on their learning is nevertheless impressive. I would like to use the term of the Fellowship to design a more sophisticated and effective American Studies program for these undergraduates, one that would provide them with greater technical competency at less cost to them and that would also enable them to do more sophisticated kinds of research and analysis. For those that go on to graduate school, I believe this will equip them with necessary competencies for working in the 21st Century; for those that go immediately to work, I hope to have them competing with my M.A.s for the same jobs.
At the same time, I'd like to more completely involve other faculty in the English Department in the process. I have had some success, with John Sullivan and Stephen Railton and Franny Nudelman, converting my fellow Americanists to the promise of the new technologies. But I'd like to support them better and to enable others by designing a laboratory course for them and their students that would provide both a theoretical introduction to American Studies/Humanities Computing and the necessary technical competencies to do the sort of web work my own students do now. My hope is that those that would not want to make the effort themselves would be willing to let me do it for them; I'm now designing a version of this course and will give it a test run this coming Spring with students from Franny Nudelman's third-year American Studies seminar.
II. Creating a broader American Studies Community at UVA
Although a number of my colleagues outside the English Department now participate in the program, either by offering courses which the AS students take or by team-teaching with me in the introductory course, I'd like to use the web to create a virtual space that would create a real American Studies community. The pieces of that community already exists but is dispersed in a number of different departments, buildings, and institutes, making communication and cooperation extremely difficult. I believe that setting up a virtual American Studies site that links us all together and to which we each contribute resources for teaching and learning, would provide us with both a kind of community we've struggled to achieve by other means and a body of materials we could all draw on. The site created by my students, AS@UVA, is already a very large, very well received, very heavily trafficked set of assets for American Studies. The Center for Digital History, and the Special Collections division and the Electronic Text Centers of Alderman Library are rich in talent and resources for Americanists. With the cooperation of my colleagues -- in Art History, History, Anthropology, Architectural History, Public History, Religion, Sociology, and Music -- we could create around these nuclei a larger and even more generally useful resource base of materials in American Culture.
This may seem a rather grandiose idea; I think its only one that can never be quite completed. The process itself will be valuable and the results attainable within the term of the Fellowship should have significant value. Its first iteration might be made more 'doable' by limiting it to the Colonial and Early National periods, possibly up through the Age of Jackson. This is an area in which the University is unusually well endowed in human and material resources. This is also an area where our students are particularly in need of help. They come to this period of American History without the images and sounds with which to furnish the theatres of their imaginations as they read, without the sense of a cultural whole that would make the individual events sensible. This is also, I fear, an area that is in some danger of following Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Literature into the curricular dust-bin.
Over the period of the Fellowship, we should be able create a significant archive of literary and historical texts, art, sculpture and architecture, material which each of us could then use to enrich our own teaching to provide students with a thicker, denser idea of American Culture. Although many faculty here at UVA are, in my experience, more genuinely interedisciplinary than most who lay claim to that title, even we are limited to what we each know and what we can lay our hands on. Constructing the archive would necessitate a series of cross-disciplinary conversations about teaching with the new technologies that would be very valuable. And the archive should be open to others outside the University community as well; it would thus extend the University's reach and resources well beyond its own borders.
I'm not yet clear on the best way to accomplish this, although I have promises of cooperation from asgrp, the informal group of Americanists who teach here at UVA. One possibility would be to use the Fellowship's financial support to fund graduate and undergraduate students to work with individual faculty selecting, digitizing, and archiving critical materials for a selected group of courses, which serve both disciplinary majors and American Studies students. E.g., ENAM 311: American Literature to 1865 (Alan Howard), HIUS 357: Intellectual History to 1865 (Joe Kett), and ARTH 357: American Art and Literature could be the target courses in the first year. In the second year, I would move on to RELC: Religion in American Thought to 1865 (Heather Warren), ANTH 285: American Material Culture (James Deetz), ARCH 351: Early American Architecture or ARCH 150: Thomas Jefferson, Architect (Camille Wells), leaving individual instructors from the first year to continue to extend the work with their own students in subsequent years. This would provide students with valuable experience, limit the project's dependence on always-limited faculty time and energy, and provide a set of utilitarian guidelines for the selection of materials. If the initial set of courses proved successful, I'd hope to persuade other relevant departments like Sociology and the Humanities Division of the School of Engineering to use their own funds for further development of the course-sites.
At the same time, I would like to build on the model and success of Cultural Objects to include multimedia and interdisciplinary work done by undergraduates doing American Studies outside the American Studies program. Over the course of the fellowship, I think this could help create a larger, inter-departmental community of students working to understand American Culture(s) through the New Technologies.
My project, thus, consists of a set if interrelated components: to continue to develop the undergraduate program's integration of the New Technologies into the study of American Studies, to virtualize a larger and more active community of teachers who now do American Studies in the splendid isolation of their separate departments, and to create a larger community of undergraduates through an enlarged and more comprehensive Cultural Objects.
I think that each of these can actually be done, that each will captures the creative and scholarly work of students' and recycle it as a public resource, and that each will yield both primary materials and powerful pedagogical models useful to students and teachers, both inside and outside of UVA.