ENAM 803: Statement of Purpose


The general purpose of this course is to continue construction of "The Capitol," a multimedia installation centered in the National Capitol as a central icon of American national public faith. The general assumptions underlying this project include the following: that the Capitol is a social construction; that it is therefore, a 'text' in the larger sense of that term, something available to being read and analyzed; that it's 'meaning' is generated both internally -- a product of the dynamic relation between its component parts -- and externally -- a product of its synchronous and asynchronous relationship to other texts, other objects, events, and institutions; that it can be read both diachronically (developing through time) and synchronically (existing in a single time).

A set of related questions flow from these initial assumptions, questions about the production, dissemination, and consumption, continuity and discontinuity in space and time, authenticity, legitimacy, and authority, about the effects of reiteration and extenstion, variation and multiplication in various scales. And each of these may, in turn, be understandable -- at least crudely and provisionally -- as being organized around a set of unstable bi- and n-polarities: a) past and future; b) tradition and innovation; c) rural and urban; d) nature and culture; e) national and regional; f) classic liberalism and civic republicanism; g) elite and popular; h) sacred and secular i) individual and collective; j) center and margin.

Finally, the project is governed by a set of specific design considerations: a) it is aimed at an educated general audience interested in issues in American Culture; b) it should be designed in such a way as to invite participation in its development by Americanists anywhere; c) and it should provide multiple navigational structures, spatial, conceptual, and temporal.

The course is organized in five sections.. The first section of the course (two weeks)will be devoted to individual conferences, to finishing up work left over from last semester, to familiarizing yourself with the Capitol Project as it now stands, and to getting started on the reading for this term. The second section (three weeks) is given over to orientation. background, and general project design. We'll be looking especially at the idea of Public Memory, its creation, propogation, and consumption. The third section (four weeks) will be spent researching, creating and workshopping a series of gateways, compact presentations about the Capitol that are anchored in the Rotunda but now, in the third iteration of the project, can also begin moving out into other spaces in the building.. The first week of this section will be devoted to reviewing, critiqueing and improving the gateways left behind by last year's class; the next three weeks will be given over to the construction of new gateways. In both exercises, where appropriate, these can be either individual or group projects. The fourth (four weeks), we'll focus on creating a series of modules designed to suggest the larger national context within which the Capitol operates. The range of topics here is theoretically infinite, limited only by your ability to demonstrate its appropriateness to a www site dedicated to discussing the nature and function of public symbols in America.

In addition to the Capitol Project, you will be expected to continue maintenance of your Yellow Pages and your Journals. Beyond this, I'm going to ask you to serve as consultants to undergraduate American Studies students. Some of them will be fourth years who have already had a year of computing in the humanities; some will be third years who have no experience at all. We need to discuss this, but provisionally my plan is to open the American Studies Lab to undergraduates some time each day during the week and to have you staff the lab at that time.