Statement of Purpose


Purpose:

This course is designed to introduce students to both the field of American Studies and the use of computing technology in the location, acquisition, analysis, and presentation of materials relating to American culture.

Rationale:

The primary objective of American Studies has been -- at least for the last fifty years -- to promote a better understanding of American culture(s) by employing the varied resources of a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It would be both unkind and inaccurate not to acknowledge the many contributions of the American Studies Movement to a better understanding of our culture; it is also true, however, that American Studies has been primarily a sub-field of American Literature or American History and that it has been primarily focused on printed texts as both its source of evidence and as the means of distributing its findings. As a result of this situation, American Studies has never fully developed its interdisciplinary potential; instead, the tendency is to produce literary or social history with occasional illustrations drawn from art, architecture, material culture, folklore, popular culture, etc.

Our basic premise is that the computer offers a technology that promises to help us overcome the inherent obstacles to American Studies in both institutions (university departments) and texts (books or articles in which analysis and presentation of some forms of cultural processes -- images, objects, sounds, events -- is difficult, expensive, or simply impossible.) The computer provides a platform in which more and more different kinds of cultural work can be assembled, integrated, analyzed, and distributed.

Format:

The format of this course should, in some ways, seem usual and familiar: we will meet three times a week in Pavilion VIII, you will be asked to do a significant amount of reading and writing, and there will be something like a final examination. At the same time, in many ways it should seem unlike the normal courses you've had here at UVA. E.g., 1) Although I am the instructor of record, this is an anthology course and many other faculty members will be visiting us to discuss American Studies as seen from the perspective of their disciplines or special interests (Art, Architectural History, Photography, Film, Regional History, etc.); 2) in addition to the MWF meetings at 9:00, the course has a laboratory section attatched to it, ASLAB which will meet Wednesday afternoons from 4:00-5:30; 3) although we will meet together regularly, we are also going to construct a virtual classroom. Each student will create their own HomePage on the World Wide Web from a HTML tutorial. Each HomePage will be the place a student's projects are presented and all HomePages will be linked together to form the Virtual Classroom. 4) The reading for the course includes some texts in the usual sense of the term, printed texts/books/articles that will be available in Clemons Library (R). But some texts are also available in The Digital Reserve Book Room which is accessible only from this syllabus. 5) Much of the work in the course is task-based: e.g. a) you will be asked to transform an article on this year's syllabus from print to electronic text suitable for inclusion in the Digital Reserve Book Room; b) you will be asked to write ten one-page response papers to the reading materials; c) you will be asked to write a brief analytical review of a book selected from the Suggested or Recommended sections on the syllabus (or another book of your choosing and, in lieu of a final examination, d) you will be asked to create a web project called Doing American Studies. We'll discuss this at some length later but, in general, the objective is to create sites that articulate what your version of American Studies is and does.

Although it may not be immediately apparent now, each of these deviations from standard classroom proceedures is an attempt to create possibilities for change in the kind of educational experience you accomplish here. I hope that many of these will become clearer to you through time, but at least one deserves mention here at the beginning. The final exercise in this class is the project I mentioned above. This is a big deal!How do you think this business of Amerian Studies ought to be done? And, at the end of the semester, you will be asked to provide an answer.

Return to Syllabus.